GLENDALE, Ariz. — This has to be rock bottom.
For the Lightning, Saturday was a must-win game. It had picked up just three points in the first three games of this make-or-break six-game trip. Arizona is next-to-last in the NHL, having lost 13 of 15 entering the day.
And the Coyotes thumped Tampa Bay 5-3. The Lightning, the preseason Stanley Cup favorite, has fallen to last place in the Atlantic Division. It has the lowest points-per-game percentage in the Eastern Conference.
And there doesn't seem to be many signs Tampa Bay is going to dig itself out of this stunning fall.
"It's disgraceful," veteran center Brian Boyle said. "We have ourselves to blame. We've got a lot more. But I am doing too many of these interviews."
Boyle said the team's start was especially disappointing. It was a stark contrast from the first three games of this trip, when the Lightning arguably deserved more than three combined points.
"We didn't deserve points (Saturday)," coach Jon Cooper said.
It started with a lackluster early first-period power play. "We weren't working," Cooper said. "And it kind of set the tone."
It didn't help that goalie Ben Bishop had an off night. Bishop gave up five goals on 17 shots, getting pulled after two periods. While Arizona's final three goals came on a 5-on-3 power play, an odd-man rush, and bad coverage breakdown, Bishop needed to stop the first two.
Both came from bad angles beating Bishop short side to give Arizona a two-goal lead midway through the first.
""First one I might do something different," Bishop said. "Second one I never saw."
The Lightning pulled within a goal late in the first on a gritty goal by Cedric Paquette. Paquette's fourth line with Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival was the team's best all night, maybe on this trip so far. And that's saying something.
The big momentum swing came midway through the second. The Lightning, down 2-1, came up empty on a four-minute power play. The Coyotes scored on their ensuing 5-on-3 man advantage, on a rebound by potential Lightning trade target Michael Stone, to make it 3-1.
"That was a big moment for us, no doubt," Cooper said of the special teams' swing.
Then the floodgates opened. Christian Fischer scored his first NHL goal off a rush. Then, with 16 seconds left in the second period, Martin Hanzal was left all alone in the right circle and beat Bishop. The Lightning scored two goals in the third to make this one closer, but it was too late.
"We know our playoff lives are on the line," said defenseman Victor Hedman, who returned after missing three games with an illness. "We can't have an effort like this. It's unacceptable."
It was the Lightning's third straight loss on the trip. The first two came against Anaheim in overtime and San Jose, both 2-1. Tampa Bay is falling out of the playoff race fast. And its next game is against Chicago, followed by Florida. "You think the three games we played prior to this were hard work against good teams," Boyle said. "Even though we didn't get the results, at least we weren't embarrassed. Against a young team we just didn't respect, they came out and stomped us."
Right into last place.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Arizona, Rieder 9 (Ekman-larsson, Vrbata), 8:05. 2, Arizona, Vrbata 11 (Rieder, Hanzal), 10:19. 3, Tampa Bay, Paquette 4 (Dumont, Bournival), 18:39. Penalties—Mcginn, ARI, (hooking), 1:36.
Second Period—4, Arizona, Stone 1 (Hanzal, Vrbata), 14:56 (pp). 5, Arizona, Fischer 1 (Mcginn, Burmistrov), 16:25. 6, Arizona, Hanzal 10 (Rieder, Vrbata), 19:44. Penalties—White, ARI, Misconduct (misconduct), 9:05; Holland, ARI, (roughing), 9:05; Holland, ARI, (roughing), 9:05; Palat, TB, (hooking), 12:56; Filppula, TB, (hooking), 13:58.
Third Period—7, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 6 (Filppula, Palat), 9:45. 8, Tampa Bay, Palat 10 (Nesterov, Johnson), 14:18 (pp). Penalties—Chychrun, ARI, (delay of game), 7:18; Doan, ARI, (slashing), 13:58; Paquette, TB, (slashing), 19:16. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 11-13-24—48. Arizona 8-9-6—23. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 5; Arizona 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 11-11-3 (17 shots-12 saves), Vasilevskiy 10-11-2 (6-6). Arizona, Smith 9-13-5 (48-45). A—12,177 (17,125). T—2:34. Referees—Wes McCauley, Kyle Rehman.