Capitals cannot afford home loss to Lightning

By Thomson Reuters Apr 12, 2024 | 11:23 AM

Time is running out for the Washington Capitals, whose weekend plans will include some scoreboard watching.

The Eastern Conference’s No. 2 wild-card holder as Thursday night’s games began, the Capitals (37-31-11, 85 points) could not top the Buffalo Sabres and fell out of the final postseason spot in a 4-2 loss. They desperately need two points Saturday when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to the nation’s capital.

“Especially early on, I thought we did a really good job of executing exactly what we wanted to from a game-plan standpoint,” Washington coach Spencer Carbery said after his team held Buffalo to five first-period shots. “Then it becomes a little bit of a microcosm of our season because we struggle to score and finish.”

The Capitals are in an untimely freefall: They are 1-5-2 in their past eight games and lost for the second time in nine days against the Sabres.

After Saturday’s matchup, Washington will play its home finale against the Boston Bruins on Monday before ending at the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

By way of a 6-5 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings courtesy of an Erik Karlsson tally, the Pittsburgh Penguins climbed over Washington and into the No. 2 spot.

Only two teams among the New York Islanders (third in the Metropolitan Division), Penguins, Capitals, Red Wings and Flyers will advance to the playoffs.

“Three games left,” Washington goaltender Charlie Lindgren said. “It’s go home and get back to work.”

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay (44-27-8, 96 points) has little drama left with three games on the slate.

At worst, the club has locked down the No. 1 wild-card spot, meaning it would open the Stanley Cup postseason on the road against the East’s division winner with the fewest points, currently the Boston Bruins.

Theoretically, coach Jon Cooper’s team could win its final three contests and move into the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic Division, but that would require an almost complete collapse by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lead the Lightning by five points.

Toronto hosts the Wings on Saturday then finishes the regular season in the Sunshine State against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday and Lightning on Wednesday.

On Thursday night, the Lightning fell 3-2 to the visiting Ottawa Senators — losing in the shootout for the first time in four attempts.

Ottawa netminder Anton Forsberg starred in overtime, denying Brayden Point with a brilliant, point-blank glove save in the final minute of regulation, and again with the leather as Point skated wide to the right in the shootout session.

Only Senators captain Brady Tkachuk popped the net, while Victor Hedman missed the cage and captain Steven Stamkos rang the post as the visitors improved to 4-0 in the head-to-head skill battle.

However, Point said special teams doomed his group.

The Lightning entered with the NHL’s top power-play unit — the only one with 70 goals — while Ottawa came in with the 29th-ranked penalty-kill squad.

The Senators had surrendered 59 goals on 232 opportunities (74.6 percent), but they denied the Lightning all five times.

“They were aggressive and took away time and space,” Point said of Ottawa, which also had to burn off a five-on-three disadvantage. “And their goalie was making some good saves.”

Stamkos’ next tally would give him 40 and mark the seventh time hitting the plateau in 16 seasons.

–Field Level Media