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Bolts’ bid for 60 wins denied by Capitals on home ice

With the 2018-19 regular season winding down, the Tampa Bay Lightning refuse to simply coast into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite locking up the Presidents’ Trophy with nine games left, the Bolts entered Saturday’s contest against the Washington Capitals looking to continue their march towards history. Most notably, they sought to become the first team in the salary cap era to reach 60 wins.

However, the Capitals had other ideas on Fan Appreciation Night at Amalie Arena. In fact, they were having none of the Lightning’s quest for 60 victories.

On a night when the NHL presented the Lightning with the Presidents’ Trophy in a pregame ceremony at center ice, the Caps (47-24-8, 102 points) spoiled the party with a three-goal first period en route to a 6-3 victory over the Lightning (59-14-4, 122 points) in Tampa Bay’s regular season home finale. With the setback, the Lightning will miss out on a chance to tie the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens’ record of 132 points. However, they could still break Detroit’s record of 62 wins set in 1995-96 if they win their final four games.

T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin each chipped in a pair of goals and Braden Holtby made 25 saves on 28 shots to pick up the win. Andrei Vasilevskiy suffered only his 10th regulation loss of the season while stopping 29 of 35 shots for the Lightning.

In the opening period, the Lightning looked every bit like a team exiting a four-day layoff.

Following the pregame ceremony, which also featured Steven Stamkos receiving a silver stick from Vinny Lecavalier after breaking the former Lightning captain’s career goal-scoring mark in a Lightning uniform, the Bolts took to the ice and looked sluggish from the get-go. Washington looked faster, played harder on the puck, controlled puck possession, and effectively used their sticks to break up would-be chances for Tampa Bay. The Caps rolled out to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes thanks to Oshie’s two goals, one of them on the power play and the other off a rebound in front where he out-muscled Alex Killorn.

Backstrom added the other goal when he converted a pass off a 4-on-2 rush. Although the Lightning created a couple of quality looks early on, including a shot by Victor Hedman off the post, the Caps thoroughly dominated the first period of this game.

The second period? Things didn’t get much better for the Lightning there, either.

Tampa Bay continued to be plagued by turnovers and an inability to generate extended time in the Caps’ zone. On the other side, Washington continued to apply pressure and play with a sense of desperation. What turned out to be even more concerning for Tampa Bay was the absence of Hedman. The Lightning defenseman didn’t come out to the bench for the second period and missed the remainder of the game due to an upper-body injury.

The Caps extended their lead to 4-0 when Dimitry Orlov and Backstrom teamed up. Orlov took the puck in the Lightning’s zone and found himself with plenty of space. Backstrom drifted to the far side of the crease and got behind the Lightning’s defense. Orlov found Backstrom with a beautiful pass, and Backstrom buried it for his second of the night and 21st of the season.

Tampa Bay finally showed signs of life with 2:35 left in the period when J.T. Miller put them on the board. Mikhail Sergachev lobbed a shot from the point and Miller was in a perfect position to deflect it home for his 13th of the season. The goal gave the Lightning some energy, and they nearly found the back of the net again moments later. Ondrej Palat made a beautiful move to get around Oshie, but his shot was denied by Holtby. It was an encouraging sign for a Bolts team that was out-shot 28-14 after 40 minutes and appeared lifeless before Miller’s goal.

The Lightning begin to push back.

Tampa Bay built off the end of the second period despite having to kill off a Sergachev high-sticking penalty early on. Moments after that Washington power play ended, Ryan Callahan found Cedric Paquette cutting to the net with a perfect pass, but Holtby came up with a big save. However, the Lightning found a way to get one past Holtby soon after. Tyler Johnson sped down the middle of the ice and wired a shot into the back of the net on an unassisted breakaway for his 28th of the season at 3:36. The goal narrowed the Lightning’s deficit to 4-2 and breathed more life into the Bolts and Amalie Arena. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper put his line blender into full effect, putting Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point on a line.

Scrums and fights break out as bad blood boils to the surface.

Tampa Bay found their stride and began generating more opportunities and chances. In fact, they heavily tilted the ice in their favor during the third period. However, the final 15 minutes of the game morphed into a chippy affair, featuring plenty of pushing, shoving, body-checking, and punching. A pair of fights broke out, one of them featuring Anthony Cirelli going toe-to-toe with Brooks Orpik. The other showcased a long-awaited bout that had been brewing between Tom Wilson and Erik Cernak. While Cernak held his own against Wilson, he had to leave the game due to suffering a cut, leaving the Lightning with only four defensemen the rest of the way. Ovechkin tacked on a pair of goals, his league-leading 50th and 51st tallies of the season, to put this game out of reach.

Kucherov tallied a power play goal with under 30 seconds to go, but by then, it was too late for the Lightning. Tampa Bay will look to rebound on Monday when they begin a season-ending four-game road trip beginning in Ottawa. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.

Game Notes

-The Lightning finished with a 2-1-0 record against the Capitals in the season series. Tonight’s loss denied Tampa Bay a chance to sweep Washington in the regular season for the first time ever.

-The loss also kept the Lightning from setting a new team record for home wins in a season. They’ll end the 2018-19 regular season with 32 home wins, tying the mark set in 2014-15.

-The Lightning’s goal differential is now plus-97. If they finish at plus-100 or better, they’ll be the 40th team in NHL history to accomplish the feat and the first since the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators finished at plus-103.

-Stamkos’s five-game goal streak, tied for the longest in team history, ended tonight.

-Anthony Cirelli’s career-best six-game point streak came to an end. He entered the night with four goals and three assists in that span.

-Ovechkin topped the 50-goal mark for the eighth time in his NHL career. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have hit 50 goals in a season more often, each achieving the milestone nine times.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: T.J. Oshie – Scored two goals, both in the first period, helping power the Caps to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes. Also chipped in one assist.

2nd Star: Nicklas Backstrom – Tallied a pair of goals that helped land the Lightning in a 4-0 hole during the second period. He also contributed an assist as well.

3rd Star: Braden Holtby – Although he didn’t face a heavy workload until the final 20 minutes, he made some timely saves. When Tampa Bay began tilting the ice in their favor, he slammed the door shut, finishing with 25 saves.

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