TAMPA – It was a tough loss to swallow for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they experienced a moment of déjà vu with the Washington Capitals, who took the second straight meeting between the two clubs, 4-3, in the final minute of play.
"We clearly did not manage the last minute of the game," head coach Jon Cooper said.
Despite outshooting the Capitals 36-20, including holding Washington to just 11 shots in the final two periods of play, the Lightning's defensive breakdowns helped the struggling Capitals snap what was a season-worst, four-game losing streak.
"It was another situation where we had multiple chances to take the lead," Cooper said. "Their goalie came up big and we just broke down at the end. We haven't done that all year and I suppose at some point it was bound to happen."
After picking up his first win since December 19 on Tuesday, Anders Lindback was handed his 10th loss of the season in what Cooper called a middle of the road game for the Lightning goaltender.
"It's amazing some of these goals that go in on the poor guy - the deflections, the tips, pucks that end up in some weird situations – he's been battling for us," Cooper said. "He's just been on the wrong side of the ledger on a few of those win-losses."
Less than five minutes into the first period and the Lightning found themselves up 1-0. Troy Brouwer turned over the puck to Ondrej Palat, who then sent a pass to Tyler Johnson. Johnson then used his speed to travel up the ice and score the breakaway tally at 4:08 of the opening frame. Palat's assist extended his point streak to eight-straight games and also set a new franchise record for a point streak by a Lightning rookie.
"I thought our line was buzzing," Johnson said. "We were moving the puck well, skating well and creating a lot of chances. We just needed to bury more and hopefully they will come."
Yet Washington responded with three unanswered goals, two on the power play, for a 3-1 lead at the end of 20 minutes of play. The first came on the Caps' second shot of the game at 7:04 from Eric Fehr. Mikhail Grabovski then deflected a Mike Green shot from the top of the point to take the lead at 10:37 of the first on the man advantage.
The third marker by the Capitals came from Marcus Johansson on the power play as he stuffed Lindback. Lindback thought he stopped the puck, but it managed to squeeze through his legs for a 3-1 lead with 12 seconds left. The Capitals have now scored four power-play goals on the Bolts this season.
B.J. Crombeen's wrister brought the Lightning within one at 6:45 of the second period for a 3-2 game. The tally was his first goal of the season. With some fancy footwork from Palat, Tampa Bay nearly tied the game at three, but the goal was immediately called off by officials. Upon further review the call was withheld after noting that Palat had tapped the puck on one skate and onto the other past the goal line.
Prior to the second period Bolts blueliner Radko Gudas exited the game after skating just 6:22, he did not return to the game and no immediate report was available.
As they continued to put pressure on the Caps' Grubauer deep in the third period, Palat redeemed himself from a huge pad save made by the young Washington netminder earlier in the frame. Matt Carle took the initial shot from the blue line, which Palat deflected into Grubauer's cage for a tie game with 5:30 remaining in regulation.
"I don't know how Grubauer got that first save, even talking to Palat he thought it was in," Johnson said. "He made a great save, probably knew the pass was coming, so he was able to cheat a little bit, but just a good save."
Then with 51.5 seconds remaining in regulation Fehr ended the game where he began by managing his second marker of the game to help solidify the victory for Washington.
UP NEXT – Tampa Bay returns to the road for three games versus the Metropolitan Division. Starting Saturday the Bolts square-off against the Philadelphia Flyers, followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers in back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday. The team will then return home next Thursday to host four out of their next five games at the Times Forum.