Game 44 Recap: Late lapses cost Bolts in 4-3 loss to Washington

Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr celebrate after Fehr's game-winning goal over the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night. - Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports Images

A defensive breakdown in the last minute of play ruins a comeback effort for the Lightning as they fall to the Washington Capitals 4-3

The Washington Capitals beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday night.

First of all, Happy New Year! This was the Lightning's first home game of 2014 and it's customary to exchange pleasantries. Also, now would be a good time to tell you exactly what's new in the New Year. For example, you may be used to telling your non-hockey friends (and can you really call those people friends?) that "they don't play halves in hockey, dummy." Well, we did tonight. Six of them, as a mater of fact, which should be mathematically impossible. But due to a problem with the goal crease at the north end, it was decided that the teams would swap ends at roughly the halfway point of each period. Or as the NHL put it...

"The Capitals and Lightning changed ends at the first whistle after the 10:00 mark of the first period to accommodate an issue with the ice in the visitors goal crease. The decision was reached during a conversation between the on-ice officials and the head coach and general manager of each team. The situation will be re-evaluated after the first intermission."

That would be the case in the two concurrent periods, although the switch happened closer to the 14 minute mark in the third due to an exceptionally long stretch with no whistles.

Apparently, a mistake was made in painting the goal crease when the ice was put down the other day (the ice is removed every year when the Ringling Brothers Circus books the Forum and then put down again when the show closes). In attempting to fix it, the quality of the ice itself was rendered unsatisfactory, a condition that for some reason didn't come to light until after the teams completed their pre-game warm-ups.

This was also a good game for people who enjoy seeing referees on headsets (although the existence of any such people has yet to be confirmed) as aside from the goal crease discussion, there were goals disallowed and confirmed via the dreaded replay booth in Toronto.

Oh, and that whole "pretty awesome at home but kind of a train wreck on the road" thing? Yeah, apparently the Bolts are sort of giving the opposite of that a try right now.

What we're trying to say is it was a weird night at the Forum.

"I thought we played pretty well, but we did not manage the end of the game. You just can't turn pucks over like that. It's too bad because we held them to 11 shots the last two periods and we had multiple chances to take the lead and we didn't." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper

The Lightning got off to the quick start with Tyler Johnson slipping behind the defense and putting a wrist shot past Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer at 4:08. Ondrej Palat was credited with the assist.

The Capitals tied it at 7:04 on a goal from Eric Fehr on assists from Alex Ovechkin and Karl Alzner.

They took the lead 10:37 on a power play goal scored off of double deflections by Mikhail Grabovski beating a partially screened Anders Lindback. The puck was originally deflected by Joel Ward off a shot from Mike Green.

Washington carried a 3-1 lead into the first intermission thanks to Marcus Johansson scoring a pretty weak five-hole goal at 19:48. He was assisted by Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson.

Lightning defender Radko Gudas logged 6:22 on nine shifts in the first but did not return for the second and third, due to an undisclosed lower-body injury.

The Lightning cut into the lead at 6:45 of the second when B.J. Crombeen scored his first goal of the season, assisted by Victor Hedman and Tom Pyatt.

In spite of spending long stretches bottled up in their own end (on both ends of the ice, thanks to the switch), the Lightning somehow managed to keep the Capitals from mounting much of an offensive attack, actually outshooting Washington 11-6 in the frame. They would go on to outshoot them 36-20 overall.

With about six and a half minutes left in the period, the Lightning appeared to have tied the game but the goal was immediately waved off on the ice, a decision supported by video review from the league office in Toronto.

Washington carried the 3-2 lead into the second intermission.

The Lightning worked hard in the third to tie the game, challenging Grubauer repeatedly with tough shots. At 14:30, the hard work paid off as Palat cashed in on a deflection with assists coming from Matt Carle and Martin St. Louis. This goal was also reviewed by video replay in Toronto to make sure Palat did not deflect the puck with a high stick and was allowed to stand.

Unfortunately, a disastrous final two minutes sealed the Bolts' fate, including uncharacteristic back-to-back turnovers by St. Louis resulting in Washington getting the puck deep in the Lightning zone and setting up a full screen in front of Lindback. Fehr notched the game winner for the Capitals at 19:09, getting helpers from Green and Dmitry Orlov.

"We just broke down at the end which we haven't done all year. You can make one mistake, but you can't make two." - Cooper

This was one-game homestand for the Lightning as they return to the road for three games, a trip that will begin when they face the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday. They'll be back home a week from tonight to host the New York Islanders.

Game notes:

  • This was Washington's only regular season visit to the Tampa Bay Times Forum
  • The Lightning's home losing streak is now at three games (0-2-1). Their last home win was against the Carolina Hurricanes on December 21.
  • Ondrej Palat extended his points-scored streak to eight games, longest by any rookie in the NHL this season and breaking Brad Richards' franchise record for Lightning rookies.
  • The Lightning lead the league in points scored by rookies with 91.
  • B.J. Crombeen's goal was his first since March 5, 2013, a stretch of 56 games.
  • Having scored his 12th goal of the season, Tyler Johnson is now third among NHL rookies in goals scored.
  • Martin St. Louis has now passed former Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet for 89th place on the NHL's all-time points-scored list with 953.
  • The Lightning honored Zack Aldridge as the 21st Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game against Washington. Aldridge, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Jesuit High School and Metropolitan Ministries. Aldridge grew up hungry and homeless most of his childhood, being served by volunteers at Metropolitan Ministries. When his circumstances improved, Aldridge decided to "pay it forward" as he says, spending significant time volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries directly serving the hungry and homeless. When he was homeless, he was ashamed and embarrassed to associate himself with people in similar situations. Now, ironically, he has gained a different view and wants to be around those in need and help be a part of giving them better living conditions. Growing up without parents around, Aldridge had the remarkable initiative to homeschool himself while living on the road and attended school when he could. Aldridge understood that an education was his path out of poverty and into a better life. He will graduate next May from Jesuit High School with a long list of extracurricular activities. He will be the first from his family to graduate from high school or college.
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