TAMPA — Less than a week ago, the Lightning, after clinching a playoff spot, talked about gaining home-ice advantage in a first-round matchup.
But after Saturday night's bad 5-2 loss to the Stars at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the talk now is about how to stay in the top three in the Atlantic Division and out of a wild-card spot, which would mean a first-round series against the Bruins or Penguins instead of the Canadiens.
"Hopefully this is out of our system and we can come down off our high chair after making the playoffs and realize there are other teams that are coming and can catch us," captain Steven Stamkos said.
For now, Tampa Bay (42-27-9) is in pretty good shape in third place in the Atlantic Division, five points ahead of the Red Wings with four games to play. But if it doesn't stop a skid in which it has lost three of four, all bets are going to be off.
The real concern is how poorly the team is playing out of the gate. The Lightning has been outscored 5-0 in the first period in two straight losses, including 3-0 by Dallas, with the first goal 40 seconds into the game by Jamie Benn after a turnover by Teddy Purcell.
Ben Bishop should have had Benn's second goal at 5:37, and rookie defenseman Andrej Sustr was out of position on Tyler Seguin's goal from the slot that made it 3-0 with 1:34 left.
"Am I just throwing adjectives in front of disappointing?" coach Jon Cooper said when asked his impressions.
Most frustrating is Tampa Bay dominated the second period and cut its deficit to 3-2 on goals by Stamkos, his 24th, and Sustr, his first in the NHL.
The 5-for-5 penalty kill also was outstanding and survived a five-minute major given to Radko Gudas, who also got a match penalty for a hit to the head on Antoine Roussel, and a four-minute high-sticking call on Ryan Malone.
"It just proves we can play," Stamkos said, "and when we do play, we were dominant."
But Tampa Bay had just five third-period shots and fell behind 4-2 1:26 into the period when Vern Fiddler scored after a giveaway at the side of the net by Stamkos, who tried to make a play up the center of the ice.
"(Fiddler) has his glove on the ice, and (the puck) nicks his glove and goes right to him," Stamkos said. "I make that costly mistake, and it just sucks the life out of us."
That is true, but the first period set the stage.
"The only thing that's going to pull you out of things like this is you have to play determined," Cooper said. "You have to play with courage. You've got to play with heart."
Including in the first period.
First—1, Dal, Ja.Benn 31 (Goligoski, Seguin), :40. 2, Dal, Ja.Benn 32 (Garbutt, Fiddler), 5:37. 3, Dal, Seguin 35 (Jo.Benn, Ja.Benn), 18:26. Penalties—Malone, TB (hooking), 2:56; Gudas, TB, served by Kucherov match penalty (match), 7:33; Roussel, Dal (slashing), 19:33.
Second—4, TB, Stamkos 24 (Palat, Hedman), 1:57. 5, TB, Sustr 1 (Malone, Thompson), 6:44. Penalties—Salo, TB (holding), 2:05; Malone, TB, double minor (high-sticking), 12:31; Garbutt, Dal (holding), 16:35.
Third—6, Dal, Fiddler 6, 1:26. 7, Dal, Roussel 14 (Garbutt, Eakin), 7:57. Penalties—Dal bench, served by Seguin (too many men), 13:41; Ja.Benn, Dal (hooking), 18:43. Shots on Goal—Dal 11-7-10—28. TB 8-16-5—29. Power-play opportunities—Dal 0 of 5; TB 0 of 4. Goalies—Dal, Lehtonen 31-19-10 (29 shots-27 saves). TB, Bishop 37-14-7 (28-23). A—19,204 (19,204).