TAMPA — The effort was better, if that gives you hope. The energy was better, if that restores your faith.
On the other hand, the Lightning lost another game Monday night.
And the backslide continues.
The goaltending was superb, if that makes you feel better. The defense was good enough to win, if that restores your belief.
On the other hand, the Lightning's scorers still cannot find the net with a GPS and a pack of bloodhounds.
And a chance to regain first place has been squandered.
It is a team in its greatest crisis of the season, the Lightning. It does not matter that the Lightning played better in defeat Monday night, and it does not matter even that it has played relatively well in three of its four losses. In the NHL, where winning is the only standard, there are no bonus points for playing well.
For the Lightning, all that matters is that in its biggest game of the season — in its biggest game in several seasons — the team lost (2-1 in a shootout).
This one ought to sting, because the Lightning lost a chance to beat Washington, and it lost a chance to take back the division lead, and it lost a chance to quiet Bruce Boudreau, the head yap of the Caps. More than anything, this one ought to sting because of how badly the Lightning needed to win this game to restore some sense of order to a season gone wrong.
Granted, the Lightning has come a long way this year, long enough to make a late-season game look big. But in the NHL, the only standard is winning, and a four-game losing streak is a legitimate cause for concern.
Yes, the Lightning earned a point, which is a marginally better result than in its three previous games. Yes, the players played with a larger dose of passion, which was a measurably better sight than the moonlight skate they took in the first period against Montreal in their previous defeat.
Still, the result wasn't good enough for a team in a playoff chase. Closing out a game, winning a game, shouldn't be too much to ask.
For that matter, neither should scoring a goal or two. Should it?
It is the darndest thing, this power outage. It is as if the net gets smaller, and the lights get dimmer, every shift.
Steven Stamkos continues to struggle — he is now at one goal in his past 12 games. Simon Gagne has been even worse — he's at one goal in his past 15. Add the injuries to Ryan Malone and Steve Downie, and you have a team that has scored only five goals in its four straight losses. The result is the Lightning has been reduced to a team with precious little margin for error.
Take Monday night's game, for instance. Dwayne Roloson was terrific in goal, so good that Boudreau will probably think of something nasty to say about him, too. By now, Roloson has played so well against the Caps — he was five minutes from his third shutout of the year against Washington and, like the others, this one was with first place on the line.
In overtime, the Caps got off the last nine shots, and Roloson stopped them all. If Boudreau wants to talk about diving — he accused Downie and Stamkos of it — he ought to talk about Roloson, because Roloson lunged to protect the net most of the night. At one point, I think he pulled off a double-gainer with a half twist.
All of that, however, wasn't good enough to win. When a goalie plays as well as Roloson played, allowing one goal shouldn't be too many.
Did the Lightning have a beef over the call that led to Vinny Lecavalier's goal being disallowed? Yeah, probably. Then again, good teams withstand bad calls. The Lightning had enough other chances to score a second goal.
For Tampa Bay, with 16 games to go, it is time to return to being a good team. It is time to stop worrying about bad bounces and bad calls. It is time to assume the effort will be good, and the energy will be high and that the team will score a goal or two along the way.
If the Lightning could find a way to win, that would be nice, too.