WASHINGTON — Vinny Lecavalier walked briskly out of the locker room, eyes forward, his right arm in a sling.
The Lightning superstar's shoulder is hurt, to what extent no one is saying, even if they know. But there was no missing how Lecavalier felt about the open-ice hit from the Capitals' Matt Cooke on Thursday night that caused the fall that caused the injury.
"No puck, and I'm not looking," Lecavalier said, "and no penalty."
"It's an absolute cheap shot," coach John Tortorella said. "It's a guy in a vulnerable position. It's interference. The puck isn't anywhere near him, and that isn't called. It's an absolute cheap shot."
And a continuation of the jinx, black cloud, whatever you want to call it that has followed the team all season and rendered meaningless the 4-1 loss to the Capitals at the Verizon Center. The Lightning, depending on what the Kings did late Thursday, could be at the bottom of the league.
It was the fifth straight road loss for Tampa Bay (31-41-9), which has only Saturday's season finale at Atlanta remaining and is guaranteed a last-place finish in the East.
Goalie Karri Ramo was outstanding with 36 saves as Washington outshot Tampa Bay 40-19; the 20 first-period shots were the most the Lightning allowed in a period this season.
"I don't know what he ate before the game," said Washington's Alex Ovechkin, "but he stopped everything."
Well, not quite everything as Ovechkin's two goals gave him 65, most ever by a left wing and two more than Luc Robitaille in 1992-93.
But it all was window dressing compared to the sight of Lecavalier, one of the world's best players, on the ice in the neutral zone for several minutes 6:45 into the third period being worked on for several minutes by trainer Tommy Mulligan.
Lecavalier, who skated off the ice supporting his right arm, will have an MRI exam today and not play against the Thrashers. The injury occurred as the center tried with his right hand to support his fall after bouncing off Cooke and into teammate Michel Ouellet, who had the puck near the left wing boards.
Cooke did not speak to reporters, but Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "Cooke was just trying to get to the other guy."
"Vinny," Boudreau added, "stepped in front of him."
And then Lightning players stepped up for their teammate.
In an eye-for-an-eye moment 40 seconds after Lecavalier was hurt, Jussi Jokinen repeatedly crossed-checked Ovechkin to the ice. Ovechkin's subsequent power-play goal at 7:50 broke a 1-1 tie. But Jokinen said a message had to be sent.
"It's pretty hard when your best player goes down," Jokinen said. "You have to respond."
Things got rougher as the game wound down. Tampa Bay's Doug Janik got a roughing penalty and a 10-minute misconduct for going after Tomas Fleischmann. Nick Tarnasky and Jason Ward got 10-minute misconducts, and Junior Lessard fought hard with Matt Bradley.
"It's good stuff as far as after Vinny and the stuff at the end of the game as far as trying to help one another out," Tortorella said.
Too bad it was prompted by even more that was bad.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kuba 6 (Jokinen, Lecavalier), :39. 2, Washington, Ovechkin 64 (Kozlov, Green), 12:01. Penalty—Smaby, TB (tripping), 5:24.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Lecavalier, TB (high-sticking), :45; Jurcina, Was (hooking), 3:59; Darche, TB (interference), 5:54.
Third Period—3, Washington, Ovechkin 65 (Green, Backstrom), 7:50 (pp). 4, Washington, Gordon 7 (Bradley, Cooke), 16:43. 5, Washington, Poti 2 (Fedorov, Kozlov), 18:52 (en). Penalties—Gordon, Was (holding), 5:05; Jokinen, TB (cross-checking), 7:26; Erskine, Was, double minor (high-sticking), 8:58; Smaby, TB (holding), 14:00; Janik, TB, minor-misconduct (roughing), 19:37; Jokinen, TB, misconduct, 19:37; Tampa Bay bench, (too many men), 19:44; Lessard, TB, major (fighting), 19:44; Ward, TB, misconduct, 19:44; Bradley, Was, major (fighting), 19:44. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-6-8—19. Washington 20-9-11—40. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 4; Washington 1 of 5. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Ramo 7-11-3 (39 shots-36 saves). Washington, Huet 31-14-6 (19-18). A—18,277 (18,277).