TAMPA, Fla. -- The Washington Capitals might be finding their way. The Tampa Bay Lightning are losing theirs.
The Capitals stretched their season-high winning streak to three games with a 4-3 victory against the Lightning on Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
For Tampa Bay, the loss continued a downward slide that is now a six-game winless stretch after a 6-1-0 start.
Jay Beagle’s first goal of the season looked like added insurance when he stretched the Capitals' lead to 4-1 with 12:29 remaining, poking the puck through a scrum in front of Tampa Bay goaltender Mathieu Garon.
As it turned out, the Capitals, who started the season 2-8-1 under new coach Adam Oates, needed that insurance.
Tampa Bay, hoping for the sort of late third-period rally that saw them battle back with three goals against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, cut the Capitals' lead to two when Teddy Purcell converted a pass from Steven Stamkos and beat Washington netminder Braden Holtby.
Less than five minutes later, Nate Thompson picked up a break-out pass from Martin St. Louis, cruised in alone and tightened the game to 4-3.
"You obviously have to use it as a learning curve," Oates said. "We obviously did a lot of good things to make it 4-1 and made a mistake to make it 4-2. We didn’t protect the puck as we should have on their end and we gave a guy a breakaway, which we shouldn’t have."
It was Tampa Bay's fifth one-goal loss of the season.
"It’s not one of those games where I can go into the room and start pointing fingers at guys," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "The players gave everything they had today."
Earlier in the third period, Capitals forward Eric Fehr skated down the right side and sent a blistering shot that Garon missed. Fehr's second goal of the game, third of the season, made it 3-1, with Mathieu Perrault picking up his third assist of the game.
The Capitals took a 2-1 lead at 5:09 of the second period when Lightning defenseman Matthew Carle was ambushed behind his net by Capitals forward Joel Ward. Once Ward had the steal, he sent the puck in front, where it bounced from Perrault to Fehr, who tapped it behind Garon.
Troy Brouwer got Washington on the board before Tampa Bay even had a shot on net when he scored on a power play 2:40 into the game. With Victor Hedman in the penalty box for hooking, the Capitals executed a perfect extra-man opportunity, moving the puck around swiftly until Perrault sent the puck to Brouwer, who buried the chance from the low slot.
"We were ticking it around pretty good on the power play, guys were making good plays, seeing what was open," Brouwer said. "We thought if that defenseman was going to collapse a little bit then I might be open in the slot, and it happened to work out and it was a good start."
St. Louis tied the score for the Lightning at 8:23 when he collected a wide shot from Vincent Lecavalier and hacked away from Holtby’s left until the puck finally slipped into the net. His fourth goal of the season broke a 10-game scoring drought for St. Louis, who hadn’t scored since Jan. 21 in the second game of the season against the New York Islanders.
Holtby was especially sharp, stopping 27 shots, including a glove save which robbed Teddy Purcell in the first period and a denial of St. Louis from just outside the crease in the second.
The win was Holtby’s fourth of the season. Garon, who got the start when Anders Lindback came up ill Thursday morning, made 35 saves as his record fell to 1-3-0.
The Capitals (5-8-1), finally finding some traction and consistency, continue their road trip against the New York Rangers on Sunday. The Lightning (6-6-1) head out for a one-game road trip when they visit the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
"It's very difficult to get up the next day but I'm pretty sure there is going to be a tomorrow," Boucher said. "We are going to get on the ice and going to work and tackle more things. Tackle the work ethic."