Recap: Lightning 3, Caps 2

[AP Recap - GameCenter - Game Summary - Event Summary]

Mark this one down as "just one of those nights".

There are any number of reasons why this game goes into the books as a loss but ultimately it was because the Capitals took the ice tonight lacking urgency, against a Tampa Bay team with nothing but. Everything about the way they played this game showed that they were willing to do just enough not to get embarrassed, and as a result were outworked and outhustled for long stretches. 

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Tampa Bay has had their struggles in net this year, but Antero Niittymaki always seems to save his best work for the Caps - which makes you wonder why Mike Smith ever sees the light of day when Washington is on the docket. He was everything Tampa needed him to be and more tonight, robbing the Caps on more than one occasion and adding his name to the growing list of netminders who come up big in Washington. Marty, Manny...make room for Antero.
  • You can't stop what you can't see, however, and there's no way he saw Tomas Fleischmann's bullet of a shot from the short side. Flash's goal off a great cross-ice pass from Alex Ovechkin gave him 20 on the year - and made him the sixth Cap to hit that milestone. No other team has more than four.
  • The story in recent weeks has been about the Caps' struggling penalty kill, which has dropped below 80% and is under 60% when facing the Lightning. Apparently one way to fix that is to take fewer penalties, as the Caps were shorthanded just once and escaped unscathed. On the flip side, 2-for-4 on the power play - that'll do, boys. That'll do.
  • In his postgame press conference, Boudreau dismissed the idea of luck being on Tampa's side tonight, saying "you make your own luck". That was definitely the case for the Lightning, who outworked the Caps at every turn and got rewarded by favorable bounces and deflections. 
  • One guy who was rewarded for the Caps was Brooks Laich, who made it 3-2 late in the game by doing what he does best - going to the front of the net and collecting rebounds. Great night for Laich, who picked up #21 on the season and added four hits, two takeaways and two blocked shots to his resume. Probably wanted to win that one faceoff he took, though...
  • Semyon Varlamov most definitely wants a do-over on that first Tampa Bay goal; beyond that, it's hard to pin this loss on the young netminder. He was the victim of a few unlucky deflections (including what would ultimately be the game-winner off of Lecavalier's elbow), and probably had his best performance since returning from injury. Every game he looks a little stronger, a little closer to circa-November Varly - now the team in front of him just needs to help him out.
  • Add two more assists to the growing number of helpers Captain Ovechkin has racked up this season, as his second straight two-assist performance now gives him 52 on the year and a whopping 96 points overall. Yowza.
  • The theory behind the rotation of players in and out of the lineup is fairly easy to understand. Everyone gets a look, everyone gets a tryout and by the playoffs Boudreau knows what he has. And yet you have to wonder why he'd throw John Erskine back into the lineup against a team that's got both speed and mobility - it's not like he doesn't know what he has in big #4.
  • Brendan Morrison can't buy a goal, but he had a pretty good game for himself regardless and seems perpetually on the edge of breaking out. He had two shots, a hit, two takeaways and two blocked shots, and was an absolute beast in the faceoff circle with nine wins on twelve draws.
  • Can we have Jeff Schultz and John Carlson back now? Please? We promise to feed them and walk them and...
The last time the Caps lost to Tampa Bay at home was November 10, 2007; incidentally, that was also the last time the Caps failed to put up at least three goals against the Lightning at Verizon Center. 

But history is history, and this is a Lightning team that we knew wouldn't roll over easily - they never do. Instead Tampa Bay came into DC annoyingly ready to play and it showed in every shot, in every move, in every hit. It's a story we all know well, the top team being outworked by the scrappy underdogs desperate for points; hell, we used to be that scrappy underdog.

And ultimately it's another lesson learned. With the division locked up and a hefty lead in the conference, it's a relatively cheap lesson; what now becomes crucial is how they carry the lesson over into their next game and the rest of the games down the stretch...because it doesn't get any easier.
Game highlights:

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