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Slow start once again an issue in Lightning’s loss to Capitals

It was down 4-0 before it got its first goal. Steven Stamkos calls its early play uninspired.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) looks on as the Washington Capitals celebrate their goal scored by left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), his 50th goal of the season and first of two in the game, during third period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Saturday, March 30, 2019.
[DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) looks on as the Washington Capitals celebrate their goal scored by left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), his 50th goal of the season and first of two in the game, during third period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Saturday, March 30, 2019. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Mar. 31, 2019
Updated Mar. 31, 2019

TAMPA — Some old habits have been cropping up for the Lightning.

It has had to come from behind in each of its past four games. Twice it was able to complete the comeback for a win. But not so in a 6-3 loss to the Capitals on Saturday at Amalie Arena.

Tampa Bay gave up three goals in the first period and four goals total before getting on the board late in the second period.

Monday, the Lightning scored first but ended up looking up at a 4-2 deficit to the Bruins after the second period. It won 5-4. Before that, it trailed the Blues 3-0 after the first period and lost 4-3. Before that, Tampa Bay trailed Carolina by a goal after two periods before winning 6-3.

That’s a lot time trailing, which the Lightning hadn’t done a lot of in the month prior.

“It’s not ideal,” Ryan McDonagh said. “We like to play with the lead, and we like to have quick starts.”

Coach Jon Cooper didn’t specifically mention the early deficits, but he did say the Lightning is giving up too much offense — too many goals, too many shots.

“By no means did there need to be six (goals) against us (Saturday),” he said.

At this point, the games don’t mean anything for the Lightning in the standings. The loss to Washington means that at 59-15-4, it has to win it last four games of the regular season to break the NHL season wins record of 62, but that’s it. It’s spot as the top team in the league won’t change.

But Steven Stamkos said the Lightning has been in that position for a while and still found ways to play well and win.

“Whether we’re playing Washington, Boston, Toronto, whatever, we play the way we did the first half of the game (Saturday), you’re not going to win,” Stamkos said.

The Lightning didn’t get emotional until the end of the game. That’s when the fists flew.

Nikita Kucherov landed a beauty of a top-shelf wrist shot with 28 seconds left, but with the Lightning trailing by four, it didn’t mean much.

Stamkos called the Lightning’s play uninspired. He listed the problems the team has addressed but then had again, taking penalties and turnovers chief among them.

This week’s four-day break may have been a factor in Tampa Bay’s slow start Saturday, but it can’t be an excuse. In the playoffs, the Lightning could be in the position of wrapping up a playoff series early and then having to wait several days for an opponent to be determined and then the next series to begin.

The Lightning isn’t playing for much right now, but it is setting the tone it could carry into the playoffs. The current tone, as McDonagh said, is not ideal.

What would be ideal? What is this team looking to carry into postseason play?

“Just consistent hockey close to 60 minutes,” McDonagh said. “In the playoffs, you can’t afford to take five minutes off, 10 minutes off, let alone a period.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

Capitals 3-1-2--6

Lightning 0-1-2--3

First Period—1, Washington, Backstrom 20 (Wilson, Djoos), 7:24. 2, Washington, Oshie 24 (Hagelin, Jensen), 10:45. 3, Washington, Oshie 25 (Carlson, Kuznetsov), 16:00 (pp). Penalties—Vasilevskiy, TB, served by Gourde, (tripping), 0:21 Gourde, TB, (high sticking), 14:12.

Second Period—4, Washington, Backstrom 21 (Orlov, Stephenson), 7:53. 5, Tampa Bay, Miller 13 (McDonagh, Sergachev), 17:25. Penalties—Coburn, TB, (boarding), 9:31 Wilson, WSH, (high sticking), 13:44.

Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Johnson 28, 3:36. 7, Washington, Ovechkin 50 (Backstrom, Oshie), 14:35. 8, Washington, Ovechkin 51 (Carlson, Kuznetsov), 16:15 (pp). 9, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 39 (Miller, Sergachev), 19:32 (pp). Penalties—Sergachev, TB, (high sticking), 0:47 Cirelli, TB, Major (fighting), 9:26 Orpik, WSH, Major (fighting), 9:26 Orpik, WSH, served by Ovechkin, (roughing), 9:26 Cernak, TB, Major (fighting), 12:13 Wilson, WSH, Major (fighting), 12:13 Kucherov, TB, (tripping), 15:30 Dowd, WSH, (hooking), 19:14.

Shots on Goal—Washington 13-15-7_35. Tampa Bay 5-9-14_28. Power-play opportunities—Washington 2 of 5 Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Washington, Holtby 31-19-5 (28 shots-25 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 37-10-4 (35-29). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:33.