WASHINGTON — Blaming the Lightning's 3-2 loss to the Capitals on a broken stick is way too simplistic.
Still, when defenseman Mike Lundin on Sunday had to throw his away, it gave an opening to superstar Alex Ovechkin, who scored the winner with 6:26 left in a third period in which the Lightning had erased a two-goal deficit.
"It's tough," said Lundin, who had done such a good job closing down Ovechkin. "Every shift you come off that he didn't score, you feel good. But the stick breaks, a little bit of confusion, and he gets open for a shot."
It was Washington's 10th straight victory, tying a team record, ninth straight at home and sixth straight against Tampa Bay at the Verizon Center.
For the Lightning (22-21-11), the loss was bitter after its comeback against the Southeast Division leaders, and considering it hit three posts.
"Devastating," said Marty St. Louis, whose goal five minutes into the third was followed 2:42 later by Steven Stamkos' 29th, and 12th on the power play.
"But we have to grab something positive out of the third period, some momentum into the next game. We showed a lot of character coming back like that against a tough team. We just fell short a little bit."
That was due to Ovechkin, who had 11 shots blocked, including one that broke Lundin's stick. Without it, Lundin could not disrupt passing lanes. Nicklas Backstrom got the puck to Ovechkin, who scored his 35th goal through the legs of goalie Mike Smith.
"When Ovechkin is on the ice and one of your defensemen loses his stick, you're in trouble," coach Rick Tocchet said. "But a couple of breakdowns, two guys got to one guy, and Backstrom made a good play to Ovechkin."
"Just a shot from the slot that has to be stopped," said Smith, in his first game since a Jan. 12 neck strain. "It's plain and simple: Make saves your teammates rely on you to make. I didn't do that, and we lose because of it. It's frustrating."
As was the game's end, when referee Chris Rooney called Vinny Lecavalier for unsportsmanlike conduct with 2.4 seconds left for mouthing off after being thrown out of a faceoff in the Capitals' zone. The two-minute penalty moved the draw to the Lightning zone, eliminating a chance for a tying goal.
Lecavalier said faceoff opponent David Steckel and another Capitals player persuaded linesman Bryan Pancich to throw him out of the circle after two false puck drops caused the players to prematurely engage.
"Their guys intimidated him to kick me out," Lecavalier said. "Their guys were yelling, 'Come on, look at him, throw him out,' and he kicked me out. That's why I got upset. It didn't seem like his decision."
Steckel admitted he spoke up.
"I didn't know if (Pancich) would kick him out with the situation of the game, but I'm trying to gain any advantage I can. If (Lecavalier isn't) taking the draw, that's better for me," Steckel said.
Steckel said he would have "screamed my (rear end) off" had the circumstances been reversed.
But there was no sense laying blame.
"It was a good effort," Tocchet said. "The third period we tried hard, and their best player won the game."
First Period—None. Penalties—Tanguay, TB (tripping), 5:48.
Second Period—1, Washington, Backstrom 23 (Ovechkin, Fleischmann), :57 (pp). 2, Washington, Laich 16 (Semin, Fleischmann), 12:56. Penalties—Halpern, TB (tripping), :15.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 16 (Foster, Stamkos), 5:00. 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 29 (Foster, St. Louis), 7:42 (pp). 5, Washington, Ovechkin 35 (Backstrom, Poti), 13:34. Penalties—Backstrom, Was (hooking), 5:07; Fleischmann, Was (hooking), 6:44; Lecavalier, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:57. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-8-12—27. Washington 11-11-9—31. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 2; Washington 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 10-12-6 (31 shots-28 saves). Washington, Theodore 17-7-4 (27-25). A—18,277 (18,277). T—2:21. Referees—Ian Walsh, Chris Rooney. Linesmen—Thor Nelson, Bryan Pancich.