The good news from Saturday is that the Lightning won, beating the Kings 4-3 at Amalie Arena.
The bad news is that Tampa Bay (38-14-3) needed another herculean effort by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to pull it out. Los Angeles dominated the third period, outshooting the Lightning 20-4, rallying from a three-goal deficit to make it one.
Vasilevskiy made 44 saves in total, including one at the buzzer, to ensure the victory.
"I feel a little ashamed that we have to depend on him that much," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "It shouldn't come to that. Not in a game like this. It's on all our guys. It's our fault."
That's the third time in the past two weeks the Lightning has faded in the third period, including almost blowing a large lead Feb. 4 in Vancouver. A 4-0 lead Thursday against the Canucks quickly became 4-2.
"What makes us a team that can learn is, we can make plays, but there's a time when you stop making plays and lock a game down," coach Jon Cooper said. "And we still haven't figured that out yet. It's still, 'Make a play, make a play.' They want to score on every shift. And the whole point of getting a 4-1 lead is to get a 4-1 lead and lock it down, be harder to score on. Once you start turning pucks over like that, you give a team that's down, they get a push."
That's what made the Lightning's victory Saturday so bittersweet. And it was a reason the dressing room door remained close for a lot longer than most wins. There's legitimate cause for concern how this team closes games.
"I wouldn't say it's effort, guys are trying out there, guys aren't trying to screw things up or miss assignments," captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's just the execution. It's not only the system, but execution of the plays you make with the puck. It just has to become habit instead of one game we're good, two games we're bad. We need to be consistent. Until we do that, we're going to have to shore some things up."
The Lightning did find a way to win, and extend its lead in the Atlantic Division to five points over the Bruins, which lost Saturday. But still, in the big picture, this is not a sustainable style.
"You look down the stretch and what's to come and what we're trying to prepare for, that's not going to take us very far," Stralman said. "You go out in a third period like that, you don't want to give up more than 10 shots, and definitely not more than 2-3 scoring chances.
"And they dominated that period. They could have easily scored 5 or 6 goals. And that's not a winning strategy."