Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Third period still won't be the Lightning's friend

Not long ago, the Lightning was 11 points ahead of the ninth-place team in the Eastern Conference, a nice cushion considering the top eight make the playoffs.

After Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Blues at the Scottrade Center, that gap has been cut to five.

"I'm not big into the standings watching," coach Jon Cooper said before the game. "It takes the focus off the task at hand."

The task for the Lightning (34-23-5), which has lost seven of its past 10 games, is to learn to play with a lead. In each of its losing efforts during its 1-3-0 road trip, the team was on the scoreboard first.

In a 3-2 loss to the Predators, it was up by two in the first period. In a 6-3 loss to the Avalanche, it led 1-0 in the first period and 3-2 entering the third.

And against St. Louis, Tampa Bay was up 2-0 in the first period on goals from Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson.

But two Blues goals in the second period — one shorthanded — tied the score, and Alexander Steen's backhander from the slot 3:47 into the third period was the winner and spoiled the first regular-season start for goaltender Ben Bishop in the town in which he grew up since the Blues traded him to the Senators in February 2012.

The Blues also scored an empty-netter. Truth be told, the Central Division-leading Blues outplayed Tampa Bay for the entire game, with a 29-17 shot advantage.

If there is solace for the Lightning, it plays 14 of its final 20 games at home. It also could get star center Steven Stamkos back as soon as Thursday at home against the Sabres.

"Yeah, it's tight," Stamkos said of the standings, "But 14 of our last 20 games we play at home so that's going to be in our favor. We're hoping to take advantage of that schedule."

Killorn opened the scoring 7:08 into the first period off a feed from Teddy Purcell after a turnover by Kevin Shattenkirk.

It was 2-0 with 5:11 left on Johnson's power-play goal that came at the end of a crisp passing display from Victor Hedman to Marty St. Louis to Johnson in front of the net.

Patrik Berglund cut St. Louis' deficit to 2-1 3:32 into the first period when Bishop allowed a juicy rebound and no Lightning player was there to clear it.

St. Louis, who was minus-3 in the game, missed an open net during a Lightning power play.

That hurt even more when T.J. Oshie tied the score with 2:56 left in the second with a shorthanded goal in which he stick-handled past Hedman and turned St. Louis around in front of the net before backhanding the shot through Bishop.

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