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Game 31 recap: Late rally falls short as Tampa Bay Lightning fall to Washington Capitals, 4-2

The Tampa Bay Lightning failed to convert on their scoring chances -- or their power play -- until it was too late, losing 4-2 to the Washington Capitals.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have hit a bit of a rut.

For most of the 2014-15 season's early going, the Lightning have been an offense firing on all cylinders.

On Saturday night against the Washington Capitals, some of the good fortune finally dried up. Braden Holtby wasn't tested with a ton of rubber, but he did face a handful of great scoring chances and kept nearly all of them out of the net while his team built a lead in front of him as the Caps defeated the Lightning by a final score of 4-2 at Verizon Center.

The Bolts started the game with a decent amount of offensive pressure and, had they managed to keep the game mostly played at 5v5, stood a good chance to earn two points against a strong Washington Capitals squad. But minor penalties would sting them all night long, starting with a couple early kills to minor penalty calls on Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn.

The Lightning appeared to take a 1-0 lead after killing off both penalties, but Steven Stamkos' apparent goal into a wide open net was waived off for goaltender interference to Ryan Callahan, who looked to be pushed by Caps defender Brooks Orpik into Holtby's path to get back into the net and in front of the Stamkos shot. There's no denying Callahan impeded Holtby from making a save; the question is, did he make a reasonable effort to avoid contact? And how much is Orpik to blame for putting Callahan in his own goalie's way?

With the goal wiped out,  the Lightning continued the parade to the box, and while the penalty kill managed a perfect 4/4 on the night, it wasn't without a handful of close calls and a constant shooting gallery on Ben Bishop.

A natural hat trick from Nicklas Backstrom split between the second and third periods, plus an anemic power play and more minor penalties prevented the Bolts from gaining any steam at 5v5 and kept the Caps in control until very late in the game.

Tyler Johnson added a late tally to break up Holtby's shutout bid after a nice transition play with Nikita Kucherov, who held the defense, and the eyes of Holtby, freeing Johnson to score up high over the Washington netminder's shoulder to bring the Bolts within two goals with four minutes remaining. The rally continued when moments later, a long jaunt into the Caps' end resulted in a gimme goal for Matt Carle, who snuck behind the defense and outwaited Holtby to bring the Lightning within a gol with 2 and half minutes remaining.

With Ben Bishop pulled for the extra attacker, the Lightning had a few looks towards Holtby in hopes of equalizing, including a hard shot from the right circle off the stick of Steven Stamkos. But, as the Bolts tried to regroup in the neutral zone, Jason Garrison and Valtteri Filppula collided with one another allowing Eric Fehr to scoop up a loose puck and add an empty-netter for the 4-2 final.

Game Notes

  • The Bolts, now losers in four of their last six (twice to the Capitals, once each to the Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres), will have to regroup in time for a Monday night showdown on national TV with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost 4-3 in a shootout to Columbus on Saturday.
  • The Lightning power play is struggling:
  • Nicklas Backstrom's natural hat trick was no fluke, as he was making nice plays through the neutral zone and around the Lightning net for much of the night, scoring off the rush and from around the net during in-zone offense. Alex Ovechkin finished with two assists as the Lightning defense shifted to try and take away the Caps captain.
  • Braden Holtby finished the night with a .929 save percentage, but very easily could have had a shutout if not for a few late conversions by the Lightning. Aside from the disallowed goal, he didn't put himself out of position and played great for much of the night, including a highlight-reel save on Ryan Callahan's trickling shot, sweeping it off the goal line and covering it.
  • The 5v5 game was actually controlled pretty well by the Lightning, particularly after a dog of a first period. The problem was there wasn't nearly enough of it, and 5v5 play was so inconsistent and broken up that the Bolts had no chance to press an advantage at evens. Staying out of the box has to priority for this team moving forward, not just because opposing teams will convert on power plays but because the Lightning base their success on strong even-strength play.
  • Jon Cooper commented on the disallowed goal, making the case that Holtby took himself out of the play and Callahan's contact was inconsequential: