TAMPA — After rookie Matthew Peca tied the score Tuesday with his first NHL goal early in the second period, he received a hug from coach Jon Cooper on the bench.
The sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena exploded.
But stunningly, the Lightning imploded.
"We should have fed off that and found our game, but we didn't," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "We just kept going in the same spiral."
Within 96 seconds of Peca's milestone, the Jets took a two-goal lead en route to a 6-4 victory. For a Tampa Bay (19-16-4) team desperate for points, this one hurts, losing to a sub-.500 Winnipeg team that had lost two straight.
"We let one slip through our fingers," Cooper said.
And it wasn't just that the Lightning lost, allowing Toronto to tie it for fourth in the Atlantic Division, but how. After a dominant first period, outshooting the Jets 17-6 despite trailing 1-0, Tampa Bay got outplayed on home ice.
"It was men against boys after the first period," Cooper said.
Said Stralman: "You don't win in this league playing 40 minutes."
The Lightning got a boost in the return of veteran wing Ryan Callahan, who said he felt exactly like a player who had missed 15 games with a nagging hip injury. "I've got to be better than I was (Tuesday)," he said.
So does the entire team. There were some bright spots. Peca showed poise, making it tougher on the Lightning to send him back to AHL Syracuse when the team is healthy. Forward Adam Erne held his own in his debut, earning some power-play time. Nikita Kucherov scored two power-play goals, his first since Dec. 3, to help pull the Lightning within one with 2:30 to go.
But this game was lost in the second period, when the Jets held a 27-14 shot attempt advantage. The shift after Peca's goal, Nikolaj Ehlers got free on a breakaway, earning a penalty shot on a hooking call on Kucherov. While you can question Ehlers' goal, it was just one of three in that period by Winnipeg. While goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy gave up a season-high matching five goals, the Jets could have easily had eight or nine with the chances they got.
"We just didn't defend," Cooper said. "We thought about one net only and once you do that, that's it. Next thing you know it's 4-1, and that's a long way to come back."
Said Stralman: "It was everything. Not working hard enough. Turnovers. We just kind of let them roll us over."
The Lightning (16 turnovers) entered the third trailing 4-1, and battled back. Ondrej Palat's goal three minutes in cut the lead to 4-2. But six minutes later, Ehlers finished off a 2-on-2 rush with his second goal of the game. A frustrated Callahan spun from his knees in the crease and smashed his stick on the crossbar.
It was that kind of night for the Lightning.
As Stralman said, "Not good enough."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Winnipeg, Scheifele 16 (Laine, Enstrom), 7:25 (pp). Penalties—Petan, WPG, (holding), 2:38; Hedman, TB, (tripping), 3:15; Laine, WPG, (slashing), 3:33; Palat, TB, (hooking), 6:59; Bournival, TB, (hooking), 8:16; Ehlers, WPG, (delay of game), 10:43; Palat, TB, (hooking), 10:58.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Peca 1 (Killorn, Namestnikov), 3:43. 3, Winnipeg, Ehlers 11, 4:30. 4, Winnipeg, Trouba 2 (Perreault, Wheeler), 5:19. 5, Winnipeg, Byfuglien 5 (Morrissey, Wheeler), 14:44. Penalties—Kucherov, TB, Penalty Shot (interference on breakaway (penalty shot)), 4:30; Wheeler, WPG, (holding), 8:48; Palat, TB, (slashing), 10:51; Perreault, WPG, (tripping), 18:33.
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Palat 7 (Kucherov, Johnson), 3:26. 7, Winnipeg, Ehlers 12 (Laine, Trouba), 9:28. 8, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 14 (Hedman, Johnson), 12:22 (pp). 9, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 15 (Hedman, Drouin), 17:29 (pp). 10, Winnipeg, Laine 20 (Ehlers, Scheifele), 18:37. Penalties—Armia, WPG, (high sticking), 12:06; Trouba, WPG, (delay of game), 17:01.
Shots on Goal—Winnipeg 6-13-15—34. Tampa Bay 17-10-9—36.
Power-play opportunities—Winnipeg 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 2 of 7.
Goalies—Winnipeg, Hellebuyck 14-12-1 (36 shots-32 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 10-6-2 (33-28).
A—19,092 (19,204). T—2:34.