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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning lose crucial ground in loss to Capitals

WASHINGTON - Sunday served as a Game 7 for the Lightning's season.

Win and stay in the race.

Lose, well, then it's time to start making those summer vacation plans.

The Lightning can start putting in the calls to the travel agent.

Tampa Bay blew a pair of one-goal leads before falling to the Washington Capitals 4-2 on Sunday night at Verizon Center.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice to give him 25 on the season, tying him with Steven Stamkos for the league lead, while John Carlson and Joel Ward scored less than four minutes apart in the second period to help the Caps take the lead for good. Ovechkin scored an empty-net goal with 4.4 seconds left.

The loss knocked the Lightning eight points behind division-leading Washington as well as eight points behind the eighth spot in the conference with 10 games remaining. Tampa Bay, which lost 4-2 to the Islanders on Saturday, is in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, just two points ahead of Florida.

Overall it was a familiar tale that sealed Tampa Bay's fate — play well enough to win, do just enough to lose.

“I think we played a really good game. We had our opportunities, we came out of our zone good and we make a couple of mistakes in the second,'' Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. “Otherwise, I think we played a really good game.''

Ben Bishop, making his third start in four days, saw two deflected shots get past him — one off a teammate's stick — plus another bad bounce off a teammate's stick while stopping 34 shots.

Lecavalier had a goal and an assist, while Alex Killorn registered his seventh of the season for Tampa Bay.

There were plenty of chances for the Lightning, but they failed to take advantage of a rusty Michal Neuvirth, making his first start since March 16.

“They got three bounces off sticks, that was the difference,'' Bishop said. “It's very disappointing. We can't lose by a goal and say we played good enough because it's a loss.''

It didn't take long for Tampa Bay to get on the board as seven seconds into a power play, Lecavalier camped out at the top of the crease to tap in a pass from Marty St. Louis at 1:52 of the opening period. It marked the first power-play goal for Tampa Bay since Jon Cooper was named head coach.

Lecavalier nearly scored his second power-play goal of the period when he was alone in front of the net, and tried to deke Neuvirth but was unable to lift the puck over his right pad in the final minute. It was one of five shots for Lecavalier in the first period.

The lead didn't last long into the second period as Washington pulled even at 3:14 when Ovechkin got to the top of the crease area to get his stick on a point shot from Jack Hillen and redirect the puck over Bishop and into the net.

Killorn regained the lead for Tampa Bay three minutes later, hauling in a pass from Lecavalier and moving up ice with a head of steam to get around Hillen, cutting to the front of the net and slipping a backhand through the pads of Neuvirth at 6:37 for his third goal in four games.

Washington jumped in front, however, with two goals 3:27 apart in the second. First, Carlson came down the middle, called for the puck from Ward and stepped into a slap shot 5 feet inside the Lightning zone. His shot deflected off the blade of Eric Brewer and over Bishop at 12:54.

Ward then took advantage of Nate Thompson covering the right point, driving the puck wide, flipping it over to his forehand and seeing his pass attempt hit Thompson's stick, only to have the puck come right back to him before beating Bishop, who was playing the pass, to the short side at 16:21.

“That's a tough one,'' Cooper said of the game. “We've put ourselves in this situation, so that makes it tough to begin with. But I thought our guys battled hard and we had every chance to win that game. The boys are battling hard, then you look at the first (Washington goal), that's a shot wide, our (defenseman) doesn't pick up the stick. The second one, Bishop saves it 100 out of 100 times, but it happens to hit Brewer's stick and go top corner. What do we do there?

“Then third one, a harmless play, nothing coming out of it and it hits (Thompson's) stick, goes right back to him and it's another seeing-eye single. Those are tough. But there was a lot good to take out of this, but ultimately it's a loss.''

And likely the loss that all but officially ends their season.
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