DETROIT — In the harshest assessment possible, the Lightning's 3-2 loss to the Red Wings on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena was a miserable failure.
Tampa Bay players said they believed they played one of their better games in a while. But coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning did not respond to the challenge from a team fighting for its playoff life.
"We lost the game," Cooper said. "You go into a game, you don't get points, I don't think you're really answering anything. Moral victories get you nothing but zero points, and we're still in a position where we need points."
This was a coach in a bad mood, upset that Tampa Bay's 11-game points streak had come to an end.
This was a coach sending a message.
Tampa Bay (41-25-9) has seven games left, six against opponents in playoff races. That includes the Canadiens, who are in Tampa on Tuesday, are two points ahead of the Lightning in the Atlantic Division and are fighting with Tampa Bay for home ice in an expected first-round playoff series.
In other words, the intensity felt in Sunday's game will only increase as the season winds down.
"And we have to be ready for it," Cooper said.
Ready or not, though, sometimes stuff happens.
After the Lightning went ahead 1-0 on Valtteri Filppula's 25th goal, the Red Wings scored three.
Goaltender Ben Bishop dove to stop Joakim Andersson's rebound backhand and knocked the puck into the net, and Gustav Nyquist put on a clinic with his sharp-angle goal that made the score 2-1 in the first period after he drove the net with Matt Carle harassing him from behind.
David Legwand's deflection power-play goal made it 3-1 with 4:24 left in the second period.
Detroit showed more desperation in a first period in which it held a 12-6 shot advantage. But Tampa Bay's overall puck management was improved, and it cut down on turnovers.
It outshot Detroit 22-18 in the second and third periods, and Sami Salo's goal with 4:29 left in the third made it 3-2.
The nit was a 0-for-3 power play Cooper said did not get enough shots to the net. That is fixable as long as the competitive intensity is present, not always the case despite a 7-0-4 points streak.
"This was a totally different atmosphere," captain Steven Stamkos said. "You could feel the intensity from the puck drop that it was different. That's what it's going to be like from here on out."
Stamkos said he believed Tampa Bay "answered the bell" and played "our best game in a long time."
"But we still didn't get any points," Cooper said, "so to that end, it wasn't very good."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Filppula 25, 8:40. 2, Detroit, Andersson 8 (Helm, Alfredsson), 11:08. 3, Detroit, Nyquist 27 (Legwand), 15:24. Penalties—Gudas, TB (high-sticking), 18:22.
Second Period—4, Detroit, Legwand 13 (Franzen, Kronwall), 16:36 (pp). Penalties—Quincey, Det (holding), 2:58; B.Smith, Det (cross-checking), 8:34; Killorn, TB (holding), 15:17.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Salo 4 (Kucherov), 15:31. Penalties—B.Smith, Det (tripping), 2:03; Detroit bench, served by Legwand (too many men), 7:29; Hedman, TB (delay of game), 9:50. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 6-13-9—28. Detroit 12-8-10—30. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 4; Detroit 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 36-12-7 (30 shots-27 saves). Detroit, Gustavsson 16-4-3 (28-26).