TAMPA — Center Steven Stamkos figures it will take 16 victories in the Lightning's final 24 games to make the playoffs — maybe 15, maybe 17.
Whatever, "We have to think there are a number of points that it's going to take to be in the playoffs," he said, "or we're going to be out quick."
Such talk, unthinkable during a 6-1-0 start, took on a dour sense of urgency after Thursday night's 2-1 loss to the Jets in front of a grumbly sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
It was the seventh loss in nine games for the Lightning (10-13-1), which at the halfway mark of the lockout-shortened 48-game season is six points behind the first-place Hurricanes in the Southeast Division and five behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Worse, Carolina has a game in hand on Tampa Bay, New York has two, and the Lightning is two points from the bottom of the conference.
It also fell to 1-8-1 in one-goal games.
So much for building momentum off Tuesday's 5-2 win at New Jersey.
But that's what happens when you can't put away prime scoring chances, Anders Lindback allows two soft goals and Marty St. Louis loses a puck battle that leads to Bryan Little's goal with 4:08 left in the third that breaks a 1-1 tie.
"Yup, it's a tall order," coach Guy Boucher said of a playoff spot. "But we're in the business of doing the impossible, and that's what it's going to have to be."
Stamkos got his league-best 18th goal to tie the score 6:57 into the third. But for the second straight 2-1 loss at home (Feb. 26 to the Sabres), the Lightning could not convert its chances.
Al Montoya made 28 saves, but the Lightning was 0-for-5 on the power play, including a second-period, two-minute five-on-three, Montoya diving to glove Vinny Lecavalier's point-blank shot.
Matt Carle and Ondrej Palat hit posts in the third period.
"We missed incredible, quality scoring chances, and it's biting us," Boucher said. "When you get 15 scoring chances to nine, you're supposed to win the game."
That is if your defense and goaltending are sound.
The Lightning had a season-high 14 giveaways, Lindback gave too much shortside room on Alex Tangradi's first-period goal and Little's goal squirted under him.
"A quick, good shot on the first one. I just couldn't get over there," Lindback said. "The other, I gave too much space. I tried to stay compact, and it went in. It's unfortunate."
So was St. Louis' defense on Little in a defensive zone corner — "I gave the outer corner, and it goes in the net," he said — and Brian Lee and Nate Thompson could have done a better job against Kyle Wellwood, whose hard work along the boards led to Tangradi's goal.
Cleary, not what a playoff push is supposed to look like.
"It didn't turn out the way I expected," St. Louis said of the season. "No, not at all."
There's still time to turn things around — but not much.
First Period—1, Winnipeg, Tangradi 1, 10:05. Penalties—Kane, Wpg (high-sticking), 11:45.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Stuart, Wpg, major (fighting), :19; Crombeen, TB, major (fighting), :19; Jokinen, Wpg (goaltender interference), 3:05; Stuart, Wpg (high-sticking), 7:57; Postma, Wpg (interference), 7:57; Hedman, TB (tripping), 16:30; Brewer, TB (hooking), 17:40.
Third Period—2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 18 (St. Louis, Malone), 6:57. 3, Winnipeg, Little 4 (Ladd), 15:52. Penalties—Winnipeg bench, served by Jokinen (too many men), :55. Shots on Goal—Winnipeg 13-7-8—28. Tampa Bay 12-6-11—29. Power-play opportunities—Winnipeg 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 5. Goalies—Winnipeg, Montoya 3-0-0 (29 shots-28 saves). Tampa Bay, Lindback 8-6-1 (28-26). A—19,204 (19,204).