OTTAWA – The Lightning was encouraged it escaped Ottawa with a 4-3 win over the Senators on Thursday night.
But it was really disappointed about how it had to "hold on to dear life," as defenseman Victor Hedman put it, after taking a three-goal lead into the third period.
"We played scared out there," Hedman said. "Not the recipe for success. We've got to look in the mirror."
The Lightning (41-17-3) has navigated this stretch of 18 road games out of 25 overall with some success, going 14-9-1 with the end coming Saturday in Montreal. But some flaws still need to be fixed come playoff time, or aided by Monday's trade deadline.
Center Tyler Johnson said the Lightning once again got out of its structure, trying to be too greedy offensively with a three-goal cushion.
"We have times where we're not making the right choice," Johnson said. "We have to do that. When you get in the playoffs, you can't let teams have the momentum, thinking they're back in the game."
Johnson snapped out of his season-long 17 game-goal drought to start the scoring midway through the first period. Hedman delivered a dazzling goal, and Vladislav Namestnikov scored his 20th. The maligned penalty kill went 4-for-5.
But backup goalie Louis Domingue was the No. 1 star with 33 saves, including two on breakaways. He held off the Senators, who pulled within one with just over two minutes left.
"He was the reason why we were in the game," Johnson said, "the reason we got two points."
Several times in the past month the Lightning has let leads slip in the third period. Tampa Bay is such a skilled team that it has been hard for it to know when to stop going for it and lock it down defensively.
"Our game is being aggressive," Johnson said. "But it's about making the right decisions. It's about maybe not making that high-risk play. It's just getting the puck deep, sticking to the easy game. For whatever reason, we feel like sometimes we need to make that extra play that, quite frankly, we don't have to."
Johnson, who has played for the United States in the World Junior Championships, said he was proud to see the women's team claim gold at the Olympics in South Korea. The Americans beat Canada in a shootout in the final.
"It's awesome for them to win," Johnson said. "I can't even imagine what it feels like to win an Olympic gold. I wish I had the opportunity."
Johnson was impressed with the sick triple-deke move that Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson used to score the shootout winner. "A heck of a move," Johnson said. "She had some hands on her, for sure."
The gold-medal victory was only possible because of an even bigger win by the U.S. women's hockey team nearly a year ago. @TeamUSA @usahockey @TB_Times @TomWJones #Olympics #PyeongChang https://t.co/Dp9EFf477T— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 22, 2018
But Johnson and Canadian teammate Steven Stamkos lamented how a shootout decided a gold-medal game.
"It's like a playoff game decided by a shootout. It'd be absolutely ridiculous," Stamkos said. "We'd all be complaining. So why would a game, whether it be World Juniors or World Championships or World Cup or Olympics, why should those games be decided by a shootout?
* D Slater Koekkoek, who grew up outside Ottawa, returned to the lineup to play in front of his hometown fans after being scratched in six of the previous seven games. D Jake Dotchin also played, with D Andrej Sustr and former Senators F Cory Conacher scratched.
*G Louis Domingue made his fifth start, and it could be one of his last, with veteran Peter Budaj (lower body) getting closer to a return after an eight-week absence.
*LW Ondrej Palat (lower body) continued light skating after the morning skate, but he is still a few weeks away from returning.