TAMPA – The Coyotes brought the second-worst record in the NHL to Amalie Arena on Monday for a game against the Lightning, which has the second-best record. And that, Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said after the morning skate, made the Coyotes a dangerous team.
"They have nothing to lose and sometimes," Johnson said, "that's the scariest team to play."
Johnson was right.
It was a nightmare.
Arizona rolled to a 4-1 victory against a Tampa Bay team playing without Steven Stamkos, its second-leading scorer who was out with a lower-body injury, and All-Star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who got the night off in advance of Thursday's showdown in Boston against the hard-charging Bruins.
The Bruins, who play at Winnipeg on Tuesday night, trail the Lightning by two points for the division and conference lead.
The Bruins (47-17-10, 104 points) look like a team ready to take a stronghold of home ice in the postseason. The Lightning (51-21-4, 106), not so much.
"We're looking for our swagger back," backup goalie Louis Domingue said. "We were making little plays. We were making a difference out there on the ice. That's why won 51 games. I think we're looking for us to get that back and, obviously, we've been struggling the last couple of weeks, but I'm not worried about anything. I think we're going to find our way back soon."
Thursday would be a good time, no?
"We were definitely not as sharp offensively as we have been," Anton Stralman said. "We had 20 shots on home ice in a game, a big game for us trying to fight off Boston behind us and that's not what we wanted, obviously."
The Lightning began the game with a lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen. That took a hit early in the first period when left wing Adam Erne was helped off the ice with a lower-body injury and did not return.
The forward lines were compromised a bit, but against the Coyotes (26-39-11) it should not have mattered. The Coyotes entered the game having lost four of their last six, including Saturday when they blew a 2-0 third-period lead in a 4-2 loss against the Panthers in Sunrise.
But the Coyotes played like the team rolling toward the postseason, out-shooting the Lightning 35-20.
They entered the third with the same 2-0 lead as they had Saturday and this time, instead of wilting, Arizona made it 3-0 before Nikita Kucherov's power play goal with 5:33 left to play ended the shutout.
It was just the Lightning's second goal in as many games.
"They were trying," coach Jon Cooper said. "It was like the harder we tried, the worse it got."
There is a growing sense of panic among the fan base, some of whom booed as the Lightning left the ice after the second period.
Stralman said that is not the case inside the dressing room.
"It's just about hard work, preparation," he said. "We knew it's going to be a tight race. Big game coming up and obviously something we need to prepare for. Got a couple of practice dates to clear some stuff out and work on a few things and hopefully we'll be ready."
Domingue, who allowed three goals on 34 shots against his old team and lost for the first time in five starts, said the Lightning can regain its swagger in time to hold off Boston.
"We just got to keep working," he said. "We just got to keep applying our game plan and do the little details right and it's going to turn our way soon. We feel it. It's right there. We're going to be okay."
Contact Roger Mooney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @rogermooney50.