The most teachable moments in sports tend to come in defeat rather than in victory.
The Capitals did not lose Saturday, escaping Verizon Center with a 6-5 overtime win over the Lightning. But in doing so, Washington blew a 5-1 second-period lead that was only salvaged when defenseman Mike Green blew a slapper from the top of the circles past goaltender Mathieu Garon.
It was Washington's seventh consecutive victory, but it certainly did not feel like one in the locker room. There was no loud music, no exuberant exchanges. It was a muted celebration with a simple, yet poignant theme: Get two points and get out.
"We feel good that we got two points, but we don't feel good about how close we made it," defenseman Jack Hillen said. "Sometimes when you get a big lead, the game's really hard to play. And we didn't do a great job of staying in it. We tried, but we didn't do a great job. And then we got the two points in overtime, and that's all that matters."
When a team is playing well, it is easy to gloss over the cracks in its facade. Winning is the ultimate concealer, but those same cracks become even more exposed when that same team begins to struggle. The Capitals are the hottest team in the NHL, having won eight of their last 10, but they have not been as consistent during their seven-game winning streak as it seems on the surface.
They have slogged through bad starts -- trailing early during both wins over the Hurricanes -- and have had trouble closing out teams, being outscored 8-3 during the third period in their last seven games.
Several players admitted Saturday that playing with a significant lead can lead to complacency.
"We got sleepy a little bit," forward Mathieu Perreault said. "When you get a big lead like that, in the dressing room, it's hard to stay focused. It's 5-1, it's almost like, 'This game is going nowhere, it's just going to be an easy win.' You go out there, but you don't have really any reason to go. We can't do that obviously."
For the second Saturday in a row, the Capitals allowed their opponent to score three consecutive goals in the final frame. The Panthers could not tie the game last weekend, losing 4-3, but the Lightning did when forward Teddy Purcell backhanded the puck past goaltender Braden Holtby with less than three minutes left in regulation.
"It sucks," Green said. "That last goal there, that could have cost us the game. Not that it was one person's fault or anything, but that shouldn't happen. Collectively as a group, we need to address this."
Coach Adam Oates felt that his team "deserved" to win despite blowing its first four-goal lead in over six years, but more important than winning Saturday was Washington not losing the lesson.
"Tomorrow we are going to wake up and we have our two points and that's all that matters," Green said. "This game is put away, but we have to learn from this."
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