Special teams led to a wild affair at the St. Pete Times Forum, as the Capitals and Lightning combined for a 5-for-11 performance in a wild 7-4 victory for the hosts that snaps Washington's 12-game win streak against the Bolts, and also hands the Caps just their second divisional loss of the year (9-2-0).
Washington was slow out of the gate, in part thanks to its morning skate getting scrapped due to some ice issues, falling behind 4-1 after just 19 minutes. However, the Caps battled back before a Martin St. Louis goal late in the second period changed the momentum back Tampa's way and ended Washington's franchise-record win streak against any club and brought the hosts their first win against the Caps since 2007.
For a team that doesn't light the lamp often, Tampa Bay's big line powered the Bolts to a 4-1 lead after 20 minutes, thanks to a pair of extra-man goals by Steve Stamkos.
Vincent Lecavalier opened the scoring off a bad Mike Knuble pass that didn't clear the zone, with the Lightning's star taking the pass and then completing a give-and-go with Alex Tanguay for a 1-0 lead 6:34 into the contest. Stamkos then upped the lead to 2-0 with a power-play tally by taking a set shot wide from Brandon Bochenski and depositing a backhand past Michael Neuvirth with 7:57 left in the frame.
The Capitals did cut the lead in half briefly, as Alexander Semin took a cross-ice feed from Tomas Fleischmann and buried it past Mike Smith just 2:02 after the Stamkos tally.
However, another Capitals penalty turned into another Stamkos power-play tally, as the budding star scored his 25th of the campaign with a wrister past Neuvirth with 2:32 to play. Stephane Veilleux then gave Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead with 1:25 left in the frame to cap a flat period for the Capitals.
The Capitals pulled Neuvirth during the intermission, although Washington was badly outplayed in the first 20 minutes, getting outshot 15-7 and facing a rare large deficit.
However, Washington responded thanks to its power-play, equalling the score in the next 12:08. Mike Green brought the Capitals to 4-2 just 1:34 into the contest with a backhand past Smith. Smith then came out of the game, and Antero Nittymaki was put into the cage and put in front of a Washington barrage.
Eric Fehr beat the ex-Flyers netminder with a shot over the glove hand to pull the Caps within one 7:44 into the frame, and then on a subsequent power-play, Green blasted a drive that was redirected by a Lightning defenseman in front of Nittymaki to square the score with 8:52 left in the middle frame.
But the Bolts got another power-play chance before the period ended, and moved to three-for-three with the extra man when Martin St. Louis beat Jose Theodore with 2:32 to play in the period to restore the lead for the hosts.
Washington was finally able to complete a successful penalty kill after five failed attempts by both teams on a Jason Chimera minor at the end of the second. But Curtist Foster blasted one past Theodore to give Tampa a 6-4 lead with a blast high into the net four minutes into the third. Then, ex-Cap Jeff Halpern iced the game with a goal with 10:06 left in regulation, on yet another power play as he buried a pass from Lecavalier.
The offensively-challenged Lightning hadn't scored more than six goals in a game this season, but the Capitals' slow start turned the game into a track meet with Tampa's talented top line. Likewise, it was Washington's worst defensive performance of the year, eclipsing three six-goal performances against by the Flyers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes earlier this season.
Washington also only managed to go 3-for-7 on the penalty kill, which was fatal against the Lightning in a game in which Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos combined for eight points.
Ovechkin got into a scrap with Chris Downie after the Caps' star hit the defenseman along the boards. Then, once the two were released after roughing minors, Downie jabbed his stick in the midsection, and the two dropped gloves - however Matt Bradley stepped in to take on Downie and protect his captain.
Washington won't have much time to lick their wounds after their poor performance, heading down to south Florida to take on the Panthers Wednesday night.