Only a night after the Caps clinched the Southeast Division, Semyon Varlamov was victimized by a couple of long Tampa Bay drives, and Washington dropped the final game of its five-game homestand with a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a performance coach Bruce Boudreau said was “outworked.”
After the Lightning withstood a Capitals flurry to open the second period, the Bolts scored two goals of their own in the frame thanks to traffic in front of netminder Varlamov to hand Washington just its fourth home regulation loss at home this season, and also just the second regulation loss in the team’s past 22 games (17-2-3).
The setback also prevented the Caps from passing the 100-point mark on the season, and also ended a six-game streak where Washington had picked up at least one point in the standings (5-0-1).
Varlamov, who is looking to reclaim the starting role after a couple of shaky outings, allowed a pair of goals high in the corner of the net and took just his third regulation loss of the season — but still hasn’t put on a real dominant performance since coming back from injury last month. He finished the night with 24 saves, but Boudreau was quick to defend his netminder afterwards, telling reporters he wasn’t given much of a chance to stop the Lightning scoring drives.
At the other end, Lightning netminder Antero Niittymaki held his ground in the second period facing back-to-back Capitals power-plays, and thanks to his work, Tampa Bay was able to pull to four points back of eighth-place Boston in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. He finished the night with 28 saves as Tampa Bay was desperate to gain ground after a tough stretch following the Olympic break.
“After the break, it gets a little bit more difficult to score a lot of goals,” Mike Knuble said afterwards. “You’re not going to blow teams out. They’re playing for their lives … You have to give [Tampa Bay] credit. They had a gusty effort.
“I think we thought it was going to be easier than it was tonight, and we’ve got to give teams, our opponents, a lot more respect than that.”
Alexander Semin had the first good scoring chance of the game just over three minutes in, as he made a nifty deke around a defender, and narrowly missed the net, but then left the ice after getting a high stick to the lip and needed the trainer to help stem the bleeding.
Tampa Bay got the first power play of the night, as Matt Bradley turned the puck over and was called for a slashing penalty 8:38 into the contest while looking to break up the ensuing scoring chance by the Lightning. However, Washington killed off the penalty, and after a couple of decent scoring chances in the period by Eric Fehr, Washington got its chance with 3:55 left in the period.
Washington used the extra-man advantage to take the lead, as Tomas Fleischmann blasted in a one-time pass from Alexander Ovechkin with 3:05 left in the period to put the Caps up 1-0.
However, Mike Green got caught pinching in during a Caps scoring chance, creating a 2-on-1 for the Lightning, and Brandon Bochenski took advantage, rifling a puck in the corner of the net past Varlamov to square the game with just :49 left in the period.
Washington had a nice flurry to open the second period, getting a couple of good chances, but Niittymaki made a nice glove save on a Brendan Morrison backhand to keep the game knotted at one.
The Caps got a chance on the power play as Teddy Purcell was called for hooking Fleischmann, putting Washington back up a man with 2:09 elapsed in the frame.
Washington couldn’t score on the advantage, but Fehr was injured just after Purcell returned to the ice, getting helped to the locker room by the trainers, but he eventually returned to the bench and back to the ice a couple of minutes later after the scare.
The Capitals got another chance with the extra man when Kurtis Foster was called for tripping with 6:16 gone in the period, but despite some good chances, Niitymaki kept the puck out of the net.