BOSTON — The Lightning got a couple of unexpected wakeup calls Wednesday.
The first came around 9:30 a.m. when the emergency sirens went off at its downtown hotel. It was a less-than-ideal evacuation for a tired team that had arrived from Buffalo, N.Y., about nine hours earlier.
But that was a false alarm.
The real wakeup call came after the Lightning sleepwalked early on in a 3-2 loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. Once again it came out flat, digging itself a hole it couldn’t get out of. After a feel-good, red-hot start, the Lightning (17-6-2) has dropped four of its past six, including three of four on this road trip.
It begs the question: Is Tampa Bay really as good as everyone thought? Or are other teams just elevating their games while the preseason Stanley Cup favorites coast?
"The season is a roller coaster," said wing Chris Kunitz, a four-time Cup champion. "You don’t ever get too high. Don’t believe what everyone is telling you the first week, and don’t buy into what everyone is telling you a week before Christmas.
"You know in the locker room when you’re having a good game or a bad game. We know we haven’t played up to our snuff for 60 minutes, and know we can be better."
The Lightning continues to be doomed by slow starts. The Bruins skated circles around Tampa Bay, outshooting it 19-5 in the first period. The Lightning was often pinned in its zone, Boston peppering Andrei Vasilevskiy with shots. At one point, Tampa Bay was getting outshot 32-9.
"We didn’t have near the desperation they had in the first period," coach Jon Cooper said. "We were a step behind, which was obvious. It was unfortunate because it ended up costing us the game."
When Boston’s Torey Krug scored on one-timer early in the second, Tampa Bay was down 3-0. The Lightning pulled within 3-2 early in the third on a power-play goal by Steven Stamkos, his 11th goal of the season.
But despite the third period being one of the team’s better ones in recent weeks, it was too little too late. It’s hard for the Lightning to come back when it is struggling at even strength. Defenseman Andrej Sustr’s first goal (and point) of the season in the second period marked just the fourth even-strength goal for the Lightning in the past five games (the others scored by unlikely sources Dan Girardi, Cory Conacher and Kunitz).
The Lightning’s top guns have cooled. Stamkos’ goal snapped a five-game drought for him, though eight of his 11 goals have come with the man advantage. Nikita Kucherov hasn’t scored in six games, though he had another great look late in the second period.
Tyler Johnson’s career-long goal drought extended to 15 games, though he continues to be snakebitten. In the second period, his shot off the rush clanked off the left post and trickled back along the goal line.
"Still don’t know how that happened," Johnson said. "Three posts in three games."
Johnson said the Lightning got some beneficial bounces early in the season and probably won some games it shouldn’t have.
"It came a little easy for us in the first 20 games," Kunitz said.
Not anymore. Opponents are elevating their play, with the Capitals, Penguins and Bruins playing arguably their best games of the season in recent wins over Tampa Bay. The Lightning rebounded to beat Buffalo on Tuesday, but let’s be honest, the Sabres are the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning isn’t good enough to beat anyone when showing up for just half the game. It was a lesson learned during this four-game trip in which Tampa Bay picked up just two of eight points.
"Not what we had planned," Cooper said. "Actually probably never thought it would happen. But it did. And now you have to look back and say, ‘Why did it happen?’ "
First Period—1, Boston, McAvoy 3 (Marchand, Pastrnak), 7:27. 2, Boston, Nash 2 (Heinen, Marchand), 17:13. Penalties—Kunitz, TB, (tripping), 4:01; Marchand, BOS, (slashing), 4:24.
Second Period—3, Boston, Krug 4 (Spooner, McAvoy), 5:59. 4, Tampa Bay, Sustr 1 (Kunitz, Coburn), 10:53. Penalties—Paquette, TB, (boarding), 2:26; Paquette, TB, (roughing), 2:26; Vatrano, BOS, (tripping), 2:26; Vatrano, BOS, (roughing), 2:26; Sergachev, TB, (interference), 4:22; Marchand, BOS, (unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:22; Girardi, TB, (tripping), 13:25.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 11 (Kucherov, Sergachev), 2:10 (pp). Penalties—Carlo, BOS, (interference), 0:46. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-7-9—21. Boston 19-13-4—36. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 2; Boston 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 16-4-1 (36 shots-33 saves). Boston, Rask 4-8-2 (21-19). A—17,565 (17,565). T—2:43. Referees—Steve Kozari, Brian Pochmara. Linesmen—Ryan Daisy, Matt MacPherson.