Heads were down in the Lightning locker room Saturday night, but somehow the chatter was still up.
We're still in the playoff chase, players insisted.
"It's not over till it's over. Isn't that the saying?" defenseman Dan Boyle said.
But after a jarring 3-2 loss to the Capitals at the St. Pete Times Forum coach John Tortorella agreed was like a kick in the stomach, the odds got a lot longer.
Tampa Bay (25-28-6) fell eight points behind the first-place Hurricanes in the tightly packed SoutheastDivision.
Worse, Alexander Semin got the winner with 3:00 left in the third period, 38 seconds after a 33-second stretch in which the Lightning got goals by Vinny Prospal, his career-best 27th and eighth in nine games, and Jan Hlavac to erase a 2-0 deficit.
"Pretty devastating," Boyle said. "These are games you can't afford to lose down the stretch."
"I'm sure," center Vinny Lecavalier said, "everybody is going to go home and have it eat at them."
The Lightning, which entered on a 4-0-1 streak, fell to last in the East despite taking in the second period a season-high 24 shots, one off the franchise record, at Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig.
Tortorella called it the team's best period of the season, and it featured a stretch of 9:41 without a play stoppage. It was then, from 1:45 in until 8:34 remained, the Lightning took over against a team that was in Sunrise on Friday and played its third game in four nights.
The Lightning outshot the Capitals 24-12 in the period, an astounding 19-2 in the final 11:21. It took seven shots on a power play in the last 1:43. But Kolzig, who improved to 25-12 against Tampa Bay, stopped them all and 39 in the game as the Lightning had a 41-35 advantage.
"There were some rebounds available, and we couldn't quite get there," Lecavalier said of the second-period power play. "He made all the big saves, and we just couldn't get that rebound that we wanted."
The Lightning did well controlling superstar Alex Ovechkin, who had five shots but remained with a league-high 48 goals.
But Tomas Fleischmann scored on a first-period power play when he went backdoor on defenseman Paul Ranger, and David Steckel scored his fifth of the season, and fourth against the Lightning, to make it 2-0 with 6:08 left in the third.
Prospal scored on a wraparound with 4:11 left, and Hlavac's sharp deflection got past Kolzig with 3:38 left.
That set up Semin's goal that came after Mike Green's shot deflected off Viktor Kozlov. Goalie Johan Holmqvist made one of his 32 stops, but the rebound went to the unguarded Semin, who scored his 16th.
"I saw there was Kozlov right in front of the net by himself; I picked him up," said Boyle, who played a season-high 33:27. "The puck goes right to the other side, a guy by himself. Maybe you play between both of them or something."
No doubt the team's playoff hopes hang by a thread.
"The team has fought as we've gone through here, and they'll continue to fight," Tortorella said, "even after a tough loss like this."