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WASHINGTON -- Guy Boucher knew it immediately as he saw Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier skate back to the visitors' bench during the first period Thursday night.

"When I see Vinny's face like I saw it there, it's because he's really hurt. He can take a lot of pain. He's a warrior. So I knew right away something was definitely wrong," said the coach.

A trainer worked on his right hand, with Lecavalier in obvious pain. He left the bench for the trainer's room but soon returned to the ice in a critical Southeast Division game against the Washington Capitals -- playing until he couldn't close his hand anymore in the 6-3 loss.

The hope, said Boucher, was that Lecavalier had aggravated a muscle injury that's been dogging him since the preseason. The reality is that Lecavalier suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right hand, and Boucher expects him to miss a minimum of three weeks. The coach didn't believe surgery would be needed, but said the injury might be reevaluated before it's ruled out.

Lecavalier's hand was immobilized after the game, and he looked dejected as he quietly relayed news of the injury to reporters. Boucher said the fracture came at a time when Lecavalier was playing well for the Bolts.

"Vinny was playing so good. The last four games, he was playing great. He got two posts in the first period. He could have had three points in every game. It's just real bad luck for him. I feel for him. He's been a real leader on our team, grinding it out," said Boucher, whose team is also missing forwards Simon Gagne(notes) and Steve Downie(notes).

The Lightning faced the Capitals for the first time this season, a clash of a defending division champ against an upstart contender with a promising first-year coach. The Caps moved six points ahead of the Bolts thanks to a 5-point night for Alex Semin and an offensive game that overpowered Tampa during the second period especially.

"It was a great first period. We didn't give'em much. In the second, we knew they'd come out strong. But we fell asleep," said Steven Stamkos(notes), who notched his NHL-leading 14th goal of the season. " We weren't moving our feet, we weren't making passes, we weren't first on puck."

The Lightning play four of their next five on the road, and are in a 1-3-1 slide. Down three of their top six forwards, and their captain for the foreseeable future, it's a huge early season test for Boucher, Stamkos and the rest of the Bolts. 

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