WASHINGTON — With the Capitals having recently dominated the Lightning, coach Jon Cooper revealed a blueprint for breaking through against its bugaboo.
"If we beat them in the special teams wars," Cooper said before Friday's game, "I think we've got a chance."
Cooper's words became painfully prescient. The Lightning blew a three-goal lead as the Capitals scored three power-play goals in its stunning 5-3 loss at the Verizon Center. Tampa Bay, with a chance to sweep a three-game road trip, seemed embarrassed and ticked off after the Capitals scored five unanswered goals — four on six third-period shots — for their 10th win in the teams' past 12 meetings (10-1-1).
"No excuse to give up a lead like that," captain Steven Stamkos said. "I'm getting sick of saying that against these guys."
Said forward Brian Boyle: "Shouldn't happen. Ever. Those games we should win every time. It's going to be a long flight home."
The Lightning (16-14-3) appeared to be headed home happy after taking a 3-0 lead midway through the second on a goal by Stamkos, who snapped a 10-game drought.
Stamkos looked like his old self, saying he got back to having fun, skating and shooting with confidence. He tallied 13 shot attempts (five on goal), after just eight on goal in his previous seven games. His five included his wicked wrist shot for his 12th goal of the season. "Wish I could have done more," Stamkos said.
With the Capitals entering Friday with the league's second-ranked power play, no lead is safe. Alex Ovechkin started the comeback with his first of two power-play goals, set up by a Stamkos slashing penalty.
"Pretty soft call, in my opinion," Stamkos said. "I didn't agree with that call. To this point I don't know what I did. That's hockey."
The turning point in the game came eight minutes into the third. Washington backup goalie Phillipp Grubauer, who relieved Braden Holtby after Stamkos' goal, robbed Vladislav Namestnikov on a dangerous chance from the doorstep, keeping the score 3-1. "We make that 4-1, it's probably game over," Cooper said.
Seconds later, T.J. Oshie scored for Washington, beating goalie Ben Bishop to make it 3-2.
"That was a difference-maker," Stamkos said.
Boyle took the blame for the Capitals' go-ahead power-play goal by Marcus Johansson in the third, saying he didn't get the puck deep enough into the Washington zone. The Lightning's woeful power play didn't help matters, going 0-for-3. But Cooper said Tampa Bay needs to be smarter in taking penalties.
"We've had a few games as of late where we've taken penalties in the third period and had to kill them off," Cooper said. "If we've got to keep doing that, (we're) bound to not kill them all, and (Friday) was that night."
The loss spoiled not only a bounce-back night for Stamkos but another strong performance by defenseman Andrej Sustr, who scored his first regular-season goal since April 5, 2014, spanning 106 games. The Lightning fell to four points behind third-place Detroit in the Atlantic Division and three points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"Hopefully we learn from what happened tonight," Sustr said, "and don't let that happen again."
First—1, TB, Killorn 5 (Marchessault, Coburn), 8:18. Penalties—Ovechkin, Was (interference), 12:19; Filppula, TB (hooking), 16:33.
Second—2, TB, Sustr 1 (Kucherov), 6:54. 3, TB, Stamkos 12 (Hedman, Stralman), 9:04. 4, Wash, Ovechkin 15 (Oshie, Carlson), 13:49 (pp). Penalties—Burakovsky, Was (holding stick), 3:35; Stamkos, TB (slashing), 13:17; Blunden, TB (roughing), 15:53; Williams, Was (roughing), 15:53; Niskanen, Was (tripping), 18:16.
Third—5, Wash, Oshie 11, 7:54. 6, Wash, Ovechkin 16 (Chimera, Williams), 10:02 (pp). 7, Wash, Johansson 6 (Oshie, Ovechkin), 14:16 (pp). 8, Wash, Oshie 12 (Backstrom, Ovechkin), 19:35 (en). Penalties—Hedman, TB (interference), 9:00; Stralman, TB (tripping), 13:39. Shots on Goal—TB 4-11-4—19. Wash 10-7-6—23. PP opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Washington 3 of 4. Goalies—TB, Bishop 13-10-2 (22 shots-18 saves). Wash, Holtby (12-9), Grubauer 3-2-1 (9:04 second, 7-7).