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Lightning stage comeback, but fail to find victory in 5-3 loss to Capitals

Feb 22, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Nicholas Paul (20) controls the puck against the Washington Capitals in the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

On Star Wars Night at Amalie Arena, it felt a little like The Force Awakens, some fun moments wrapped in a fairly familiar and somewhat disappointing story. Some early turnovers led to an early deficit and, despite a valiant comeback in the third period, the Lightning weren’t able to secure two points as the Rasmus Sandin’s goal with about five minutes to go in the third period proved to be the difference in a 5-3 Washington Capitals’ victory.

Heading into the third period down 3-1, goals by Nick Paul and Tyler Motte 24 seconds apart tied things up and ignited the home crowd. When Dylan Strome’s apparent go-ahead goal a minute later was overturned due to an offside review, it seemed like the Lightning were destined to complete the comeback. Despite a few solid chances, including a power play midway through the period, they couldn’t put the puck past Charlie Lindgren, who finished with 29 saves on 32 shots.

Their comeback would have been all the sweeter considering they were playing shorthanded. Before the game Erik Cernak was scratched due to an illness, and then, in the first period, the Bolts lost Haydn Fleury as he was rocked into the boards by Tom Wilson just prior to the Capitals second goal.

The Capitals had tallied their first goal just 2:30 into the game when Nicholas Aube-Kubel took advantage of some lackluster defense from Anthony Cirelli and Emil Lilleberg. He was able to skate into a dangerous area untouched and rifled a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Nicholas Aube-Kubel (Beck Malenstyn) 1-0 Capitals

The Lightning had their chances in the first period as they generated 12 scoring chances and 10 shots on goal, but Lindgren and his glove named “Josie” was there to thwart their efforts. Late in the period, the Caps doubled their lead. Wilson went in hard on the forecheck and drilled Fleury behind the Lightning net.

He was then able to beat Nick Perbix to the loose puck and fed it back to Joel Edmundson who swung it to Connor McMichael for the shot and goal.

Connor McMichael (Joel Edmundson, Tom Wilson) 2-0 Capitals

Another night and another first period closed with the Lightning trailing on the scoreboard. Their play improved in the second period and midway through the period they cut into the lead. Nikita Kucherov (who did add to his point total) might be getting all of the headlines, but of late it’s been Brandon Hagel who has been dragging this team’s offense along. He ripped another one into the back of the net for his 21st goal of the season.

Brandon Hagel (Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov) 2-1 Capitals

The Bolts had a little momentum on their side, but three minutes later the Caps had their two-goal lead back. A bit of a collision along the boards in the Washington zone led to a jailbreak rush for the Capitals and Anthony Mantha finished off the odd-man rush.

Anthony Mantha (Dylan Strome, T.J. Oshie) 3-1 Capitals

It wasn’t looking great heading into the third period as the Bolts were a bit flat and trailing by two goals. Things changed in a hurry, though. Oddly enough it wasn’t the big guns that sparked the comeback. First up it was Nick Paul, who despite his unorthodox strides is quicker than most think. One of those folks that found out the hard way was defenseman Ethan Bear who was turned by Paul on the outside and then watched as Paul chipped a cheeky little shot against the grain and into the back of the net.

Nick Paul (Conor Sheary, Calvin de Haan) 3-2 Capitals

Twenty-four seconds later, Luke Glendening started things with a nice forecheck. Then Nick Perbix pinched in to keep the play alive and set up Tyler Motte who circled and scored. Just like that it was all tied up at three!

Tyler Motte (Nick Perbix) 3-3

Strome looked like he had put the Caps back in front when he scored a minute later, but the Lightning challenged and the refs agreed that Washington had entered the zone offside. The score returned to level and both teams traded unsuccessful power plays. Credit to both penalty kill units as all seven power play opportunities were unsuccessful.

After losing T.J. Oshie to a non-contact injury, it really did look like the Capitals were on the backfoot, but Rasmus Sandin was able to get open in the slot and blasted one past Vasilevskiy’s glove hand. The Lightning netminder finished with 19 saves on 23 shots.

Why was Sandin so open? Well, as you can kind of see below, Aube-Kubel fell on a couple of Lightning players and slowed their ability to get back into play. There was no call for interference despite the interference and Sandin was able to get into a prime shooting spot.

Rasmus Sandin (Aliaksei Protas, Dylan Strome) 4-3 Capitals

With the Lightning net empty, Brayden Point had the best chance when he deflected a Kucherov pass high and wide from in close. McMichael would add his second goal of the night with an empty netter, sealing the victory for the road team.

Connor McMichael (Nick Jensen, Tom Wilson) Empty Net, 5-3 Capitals

The message after the game was one Coach Cooper has preached in the past, don’t dwell on the loss, move on to the next one, as he told the press after the game,

“You’ve got to turn the page and move on and look at three big games in this road trip with teams that are basically surrounding us in the standings.”

Nick Paul echoed those sentiments when he told the press “Focus on the next game. Be positive. Play hard. Play together.”

The team will need to band together, especially in the defensive zone as they head out onto the road to take on the Islander, Devils, and Flyers, three teams that, like Coach Cooper said, are right next to them in the Wild Card standings.

They can’t sit around lamenting the points lost on Thursday or in any of the other games they let slip through their fingers earlier in the year. That’s for the off-season. They need to fix their defensive coverage issues and focus on winning the next one.

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