TAMPA — Coach Jon Cooper hoped the energy from Friday's Marty St. Louis jersey retirement ceremony would provide a lift to the Lightning, playing in the second of back-to-back games.
It looked like it did, especially early against the Blue Jackets. The Lightning, which wore No. 26 throwback jerseys during warmups to honor St. Louis, opened the first period displaying the type of dogged determination characteristic of its former captain. St. Louis' signature goal song, Louie, Louie, played when Jonathan Drouin scored first in the game.
But the Lightning once again couldn't put a full game together, falling 3-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena. And it was a winnable for Tampa Bay, which ends up splitting a two-game homestand before a telling six-game, 13-day road trip that begins in the West.
"We were good in the first (period) and pretty ordinary after that," center Brian Boyle said. "Where we're at right now, for us to not have that same mentality we had in the first, it's disappointing."
Tampa Bay (20-20-4) is still within striking distance of a playoff spot. It is six points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and four back of the Senators for third in the Atlantic Division, though Ottawa has four games in hand. But if Tampa Bay continues to play like it did Thursday in beating the Sabres and Friday, it will have a lot better chance of moving up.
The Lightning showed strong improvement defensively, limiting opponents' grade-A scoring chances. It pushed the pace and was harder to play against, with wing Alex Killorn getting in his first NHL fight Friday. After giving up 22 goals in a four-game losing streak to start the month, Tampa Bay has allowed four in the past two.
"We're working on it," Boyle said. "It's certainly not blowouts, but we're not setting the bar that low."
Considering how Columbus outclassed the Lightning in two previous meetings this season — both Blue Jackets wins — Friday was a stark improvement. But after racking up 19 shots in the first period, Tampa Bay mustered just 13 in the final two.
"(The Blue Jackets) turned their game up a notch," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "And we tried."
However, this is a results-oriented business, and Tampa Bay isn't getting enough. Columbus tied the score with three minutes to go in the second. Josh Anderson pounced on a rebound in the crease, beating goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had a strong game.
The Blue Jackets took the lead for good five minutes into the third on their top-ranked power play, forward Nick Foligno putting in a rebound to make it 2-1. Tampa Bay had its chances to tie, including Drouin's shot from the slot midway through the third, but goalie Joonas Korpisalo made the save of the game, steering the puck aside with his blocker.
Columbus added an empty-netter to seal it.
"I liked a lot of our game," Cooper said. "It was a pretty even game all the way through. It came down to special teams. We needed the big kill at the end, and we didn't get it."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Drouin 13 (Filppula, Palat), 16:18. Penalties—Killorn, TB, Major (fighting), 17:46; Anderson, CBJ, Major (fighting), 17:46; Anderson, CBJ, served by Hartnell, (roughing), 17:46.
Second Period—2, Columbus, Anderson 10 (Savard), 16:40. Penalties—Filppula, TB, (tripping), 1:34; Gagner, CBJ, (tripping), 2:49; Peca, TB, (hooking), 13:55.
Third Period—3, Columbus, Foligno 15 (Wennberg, Werenski), 4:29 (pp). 4, Columbus, Jenner 7, 18:55 (sh). Penalties—Johnson, TB, (holding), 3:55; Tampa Bay bench, served by Drouin (too many men on the ice), 12:11; Johnson, CBJ, (slashing), 16:56. Shots on Goal—Columbus 6-16-9—31. Tampa Bay 19-7-6—32. Power-play opportunities—Columbus 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Columbus, Korpisalo 1-0-0 (32 shots-31 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 10-10-2 (30-28).