TAMPA — The rhetoric coming out of another deflated Lightning dressing room Tuesday night sounded eerily familiar.
"Unacceptable," wing Alex Killorn said.
"That just can't happen," center Tyler Johnson said.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, its play spoke even louder.
With the Lightning in desperation mode, its playoff hopes on life support, it certainly didn't act like it in a crushing 4-3 loss to the Bruins. There were no excuses for this one, Tampa Bay falling to eight points behind Boston for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.
And there were no explanations from coach Jon Cooper, who has seen this type of inconsistent effort too many times in what's becoming a lost season for the preseason Stanley Cup favorite.
"Fifty games, I'm not too mystified anymore — it's becoming a regular occurrence," Cooper said. "How many times do I have to say 'consistency?' ''
The Lightning (22-23-6) started with a strong first period. But Tampa Bay was outshot 30-10 in the next 35 minutes, including coming unglued at the end of the second, coughing up a one-goal lead in the final 111 seconds.
The Lightning's mental toughness was tested in two sequences, and the team fell flat instead of fighting back. Anton Stralman got slewfooted by the Bruins' Brad Marchand, and then Cedric Paquette got hit from behind. Tampa Bay didn't respond, and Boston took the lead, David Kreji getting the backbreaker with .9 seconds left.
"We lose our game plan a little bit when we hit a bump and we can't ride it out," Stralman said.
Said Johnson: "They get two goals like that without even responding. It's unacceptable. We've got to stick up for each other. That just can't happen."
Neither can Johnson's decision to pass on his breakaway midway through the third. With the Lightning trailing by one, and Johnson cruising in on Tuukka Rask, the Lightning center dropped a pass back to a trailing Victor Hedman. Johnson thought he had a 2-on-0. It turned into zero shots on goal.
"I screwed up," Johnson said. "Should have been selfish."
Cooper said that lack of a killer instinct has been a problem too often this year with the Lightning, which registered just 21 shots, second fewest this season. All-Star Nikita Kucherov wasn't as big a factor as he can be. Jonathan Drouin surprisingly didn't see the ice in the final 3:11. Tampa Bay managed to score three goals, the last by Brayden Point with the extra attacker late in the game. Goalie Ben Bishop gave up four goals on 35 shots.
The Bruins played like a team fighting for its playoff spot. The Lightning didn't. And with other teams winning, Carolina and the Devils passing Tampa Bay, the Islanders and Panthers moving further ahead, the Lightning's fate could be decided sooner than it hoped.
"Clearly, we weren't the same team in the second and the third," Cooper said. "It's too bad."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Killorn 14 (Hedman, Johnson), 8:41. 2, Boston, Bergeron 12 (Mcquaid, Marchand), 18:08. 3, Boston, Krejci 12 (K.Miller, Marchand), 19:59.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Killorn 15 (Hedman, Johnson), 4:46. 5, Boston, Chara 4 (Beleskey, C.Miller), 7:51. 6, Boston, Vatrano 6 (Krejci, C.Miller), 12:23 (pp). 7, Tampa Bay, Point 4 (Dotchin, Hedman), 17:56.
Shots on Goal—Boston 4-16-15—35. Tampa Bay 8-4-9—21.
Power-play opportunities—Boston 1 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 4.
Goalies—Boston, Rask 25-12-4 (21 shots-18 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 11-12-3 (35-31).
A—19,092 (19,204). T—2:40