The Tampa Bay Lightning will wonder what could have been following a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.
The Lightning had a goal waved off in the first period and were robbed by Caps goaltender Braden Holtby during a 5-on-3 power play in the second period.
Meanwhile, Washington, building off the momentum from a successful penalty kill down two men, scored twice in the middle period to take over the game.
The Capitals (14-10-5, 33 points) win the regular season series against the Lightning, grabbing two of three games and beating the Bolts twice in one week.
Tampa Bay (19-9-3, 41 points) has lost three of its last four games and four of six.
The Capitals have won four of their last five.
Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom earned a hat trick to power the Caps past the Bolts.
Backstrom scored his first at 10:33 of the second period to produce the game’s opening goal. From the slot, Backstrom backhanded a shot over the left shoulder of Ben Bishop to put the Caps ahead 1-0.
Backstrom scored goal number two at 18:40 of the second period, swooping in to push a rebound past Bishop for a 2-0 Washington lead. Tom Wilson started the scoring play with a slap shot from the left wing that Bishop pushed away. As the puck started to trickle behind goal, Backstrom brought it back in front and slipped it into an open net.
Backstrom’s hat trick came early in the third after the Lightning were unable to generate any offense on a power play to open the period. From the slot, Backstrom faked a shot left then fired the puck just inside the right post, fooling Bishop.
Backstrom, who entered the game with five goals, now has eight for the season.
Holtby earned his 12th win of the season.
Tyler Johnson scored for the Lightning at 15:36 to break up Holtby’s shutout. Some nice puck movement resulted in Johnson skating with the puck alone down the right wing. His wrist shot just snuck into goal to draw the Bolts within two goals late.
Johnson’s goal was assisted by Matt Carle and Nikita Kucherov
Carle made it 3-2 with 2:31 to go, potting his wrist shot from the left wing over Holtby to set up a nail-biting ending.
The Caps Eric Fehr scored on an empty net with 38 seconds to go to seal it for the Caps, however.
Stamkos and Jason Garrison assisted on Carle’s goal.
The Lightning had a prime scoring opportunity at 6:49 of the second period when Mike Green (hooking) and Alex Ovechkin (roughing) were whistled for simultaneous penalties. Ryan Callahan had a rebound chance on the doorstep, but Holtby reached behind and swiped the puck away inches before it crossed the goal line, robbing Callahan of what looked to be a sure goal.
“That’s the way it was going for (Holtby) early in the game,” Stamkos said.
Soon after, the Caps scored and seized control.
“Our power play needs to capitalize on those opportunities,” Callahan said. “The last couple games, it’s definitely been hurting us…That’s why we’re out there, to put the puck in the back of the net. As of late, we haven’t been doing that.”
Tampa Bay thought it had the game’s opening goal with 10:04 remaining in the first period after a beautiful wraparound feed from Valtteri Filppula found Steven Stamkos all alone in front of goal with an empty net. The officials, however, huddled and determined Callahan ran into Holtby and waved the score off.
“That was the call, we’ve got to live with it and you move on,” Callahan said.
Bishop dropped his third decision in a row.
The Lightning continue on their five-game journey through the Northeast and head to Pittsburgh to play the Metropolitan Division leading Penguins on Monday. The Bolts follow with matchups against Philadelphia (Tuesday), New Jersey (Friday) and the New York Islanders (Saturday) before returning to Tampa Bay.
“We’re still in a good spot, and it’s a long road trip,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.