WASHINGTON — Intellectually, Lightning players know tonight's game with the Capitals is about the process.
Stick to the game plan, take away time and space, stay out of the penalty box and do not, as happened in two previous losses at the Verizon Center, try to match Washington's skill.
"So, if we lose 2-1 and we're ourselves and play hard, we will have advanced," coach Guy Boucher said.
But a matchup like this, between the Southeast's top two teams, is played with the heart as well as the head. And as much solace as Tampa Bay might take from a game well played, at some point that just isn't enough.
At some point, the Lightning simply has to beat the Capitals.
"Yeah, absolutely," right wing Steve Downie said. "I mean, they've handed it to us twice this year. We have some pride. It's a hard building to go in and win, but we're capable of doing it. It would be a big confidence boost."
The Lightning (23-11-5) has come a long way from the doormat it was the past three seasons, and its 51 points are tied with Washington atop the division.
Still, there is a stamp of legitimacy that would come with beating the Capitals, who won the division title the past three seasons while going 16-4-0 against the Lightning.
This season hasn't been much better as Washington, playing every bit the neighborhood bully, beat Tampa Bay 6-3 and 6-0 to remind the new kids on the block to watch where they step.
"Everything is confidence," goaltender Dwayne Roloson said. "Once you beat a team, it's like, 'Yeah, we can play with these guys.' "
The Lightning certainly is in a better position to do that.
Downie should be back after missing 13 games with a high ankle sprain. Left wing Simon Gagne missed the first two meetings with Washington because of injury, and Roloson will make his first start since he was acquired Saturday from the Islanders for minor-league defenseman Ty Wishart.
Roloson, 41, shined for lowly New York; his 6-13-1 record belied a 2.64 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. In his last five starts, he was 4-1-0 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
"I try not to put any extra pressure on myself," Roloson said. "I try to control the things I can control and give my guys a chance to win. If I do that, that's great."
Bottom line, Boucher said, "I feel we have more tools in the toolbox. But if you leave the toolbox at home, you will have trouble working."
As the Lightning has done against the Capitals this season because "we didn't play our game," Boucher said. "We played their game. … They're a skill team that likes the open ice. That's not us. Our skill guys tried to play like their skill guys and to see 'my father is stronger than yours' type of thing."
Not surprising, really, for an up-and-coming team trying to solidify a niche among the league's elite.
"We want to make sure we play our game," Boucher said. "It's how we're going to process being ourselves. Then we'll see what happens with it."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.