(Joel Auerbach/Getty)

The Capitals had just captured their seventh win in the past nine games and secured two points that ensured their place atop the Southeast Division, but Saturday night the visitors’ dressing room at BB&T Center was subdued.

While they were glad to capture a win, the Capitals weren’t happy with the way they finished the contest. Giving up three goals in the third period and allowing the Panthers to make it much closer than it needed to be left a sour aftertaste and offered a lesson moving forward.

“We can’t play like that. It starts in locker room, just go there, finish it up and play hard. We came out [poorly in the third] and that can’t happen if we gonna play longer,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We just have to be focus. When we not focusing, when we loosey goosey, that’s not going to work.”

To a certain extent, any team will let up once it’s established a four-goal lead. The key for the Capitals is finding a way to overcome those lulls by sticking with the system and preventing opponents from threatening a commanding lead as much as possible.

“It’s good that people realize that now, that no matter what the score is we’ve got to play our game a whole 60,” Braden Holtby said. “Even if it’s cliché, you’ve got to stick with it because guys in this league are so skilled, any team can come back.”

Washington is looking to let this serve as something of a wakeup call before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night at Verizon Center and as it goes forward in the final 10 games of the regular season.

While the players focused on learning from allowing the Panthers to mount a late-game comeback, Coach Adam Oates wasn’t as concerned. It might not have been an ideal finish to a game but even as Florida roared back, he didn’t sense worry on the bench.

“It’s one of those things where you get a four-goal lead, it’s really hard to play. Obviously everything was going our way and clicking,” Oates said. “I really thought that even though they scored, I didn’t detect any panic on the bench. We were fine. You don’t want to see that happen because you don’t want to plant any seeds, but the guys were good.”

It was interesting to contrast Oates’s perspective with that of the players. Often this season Oates has preached method above result, zeroing in on small detail,s win or lose. Saturday night, that perspective appeared to have rubbed off on the players.