- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2018

As the night went on, the chants of “LET’S GO CAPS” got quieter and quieter.

Fans who had come into Capital One Arena Tuesday night raucous and primed to celebrate the Capitals’ first conference finals home game in 20 years left subdued and disappointed.

Washington was dominated in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who can now even up the series 2-2 with another victory on the Capitals’ home ice Thursday night.

Washington again wasn’t as a sharp as it has been on the road, where the Capitals have racked up a 7-1 postseason record.

Instead, Alex Ovechkin and Co. were handed their fourth home loss of the playoffs — and now have more postseason defeats on home ice this year than they have wins (3).

“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” Ovechkin said.

The Lightning’s success in this series has come on the power play, and Game 3 was no exception.

After goaltender Braden Holtby was called for tripping Yanni Gourde, center Steven Stamkos unleashed his deadly one-timer from the left circle to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead with 6:07 left in the first. Stamkos has three goals in the series, all coming with the Capitals shorthanded.

Then in the second period, the Lightning added another power-play goal — with Nikita Kucherov blasting a shot past Holtby just 16 seconds into the penalty.

Both goals were the result of perfect passes. Tampa is now 6-of-12 on the power play in this series, a staggering number against a team that once killed 24 straight penalties earlier in the playoffs.

“Take one guy away, it leaves the other guy open,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said of the Lightning power play.

The Capitals started to unravel after Kucherov’s goal.

Less than two minutes later, Tampa Bay made it 3-0 when defenseman Victor Hedman scored off a wrist shot. A breakdown in coverage allowed Kucherov to find Hedman for the strike.

Orpik said the Capitals “played a little bit slow.”

The Capitals weren’t as effective at getting the puck out of their own zone, while Tampa Bay took away the middle of the ice. The Lightning’s defense didn’t allow as many odd-man rushes, which were key in helping the Capitals steal two games in Tampa Bay.

Washington finally responded midway through the second after defenseman Matt Niskanen helped keep a play alive in the offensive zone, setting up a Brett Connolly goal from the left circle.

The score helped juice the crowd, but any momentum was gone before the period ended, when Lightning center Brayden Point’s goal put the Capitals in a hole too deep to climb out of.

“If we get through that period 3-1, I was still feeling like our team was calm … our team was starting to get some traction going forward,” coach Barry Trotz said. “That fourth goal, that was the one I thought sort of laid a mark.”

While Tampa Bay capitalized on its opportunities, Washington couldn’t convert on its own power-play chances, going 0-for-3 despite recording seven shots on net.

The Capitals outshot the Lightning 38-23 — but center Lars Eller, who filled in for an injured Nicklas Backstrom on the second line a fourth straight game, said they didn’t take advantage of their looks.

Center Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with 3:02 left during a six-on-five situation, but by then, it was too late. The Capitals couldn’t make up the deficit.

Now, the Capitals will have less than 48 hours to make adjustments — with Game 4 on Thursday at 8 p.m.

“We believe in each other,” Ovechkin said. “We know exactly what we have to do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. They’re not going to give us two wins in a row in our house. We just have to play more desperate and play smarter.”

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