TAMPA — Steven Stamkos had a ready-made excuse when it came to explaining Thursday night's 4-1 loss to the Flames at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
After the emotions of Tuesday's hard-fought win over the Canadiens that clinched a playoff spot, the game was a letdown waiting to happen, he could have said.
Instead, the captain took his team to task.
"You can't play like that if you want to win," Stamkos said. "It just felt like we didn't want to win the game."
It was a clunker from the start. In a first period in which coach Jon Cooper said, "Mentally, I didn't think we were all there," the Lightning allowed two goals in 15 seconds off turnovers by goaltender Ben Bishop to fall behind 2-0.
Rookie Ondrej Palat scored his 20th to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the second period. But the Lightning power play was 0-for-3 with just four shots, the Flames blocked 24 shots (though Tampa Bay didn't work hard enough to get shots through), and when defenseman Eric Brewer was called for tripping with 2:19 left in the third period, Calgary's Curtis Glencross converted for a 3-1 lead.
Former Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo, in his first game back in Tampa, made it stand up with 31 saves.
The loss snapped an eight-game home points streak for the Lightning (42-26-9), which is tied for second in the Atlantic Division in points with Montreal, its likely first-round playoff opponent, with which it is fighting for home-ice advantage.
It also was the seventh straight game in which the Lightning at some point fell behind. It is 3-2-2 in that stretch, but it is an unsustainable trend.
Worse was the lack of overall execution and first-period focus.
"You can't just throw your sticks into the middle of the ice and expect to win," Cooper said. "Players have to take a little accountability for themselves, too. They didn't show up ready to play. Preparation, work ethic, they have to bring that."
Instead, Bishop, from behind his goal line, passed directly to Calgary's Mike Cammalleri, who scored into an empty net for a 1-0 lead with 9:40 left in the first period.
"I was trying to go to (J.T. Brown). Cammalleri read it and cut it right off," Bishop said.
Fifteen seconds later, Bishop rimmed a puck past Ryan Malone. Christopher Breen's point shot deflected to Kevin Westgarth, who had a tap-in.
"You can talk about letdowns, you can talk about whatever," Stamkos said. "Once the puck drops, you're not worried about that. You're worried about playing the way we know we're capable. It's disappointing this time of year to play like that."
No matter what the excuse is.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Period—1, Calgary, Cammalleri 25, 10:20. 2, Calgary, Westgarth 4 (Breen), 10:35. Penalties—None.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Palat 20 (Carle, Callahan), 15:56. Penalties—Brodie, Cal (cross-checking), :26; Killorn, TB (holding), 6:20; Butler, Cal (slashing), 9:36.
Third Period—4, Calgary, Glencross 11 (Cammalleri, Russell), 18:04 (pp). 5, Calgary, Glencross 12, 19:44 (en). Penalties—Giordano, Cal (tripping), 4:27; Brewer, TB (tripping), 17:41. Shots on Goal—Calgary 8-10-7—25. Tampa Bay 5-15-12—32. Power-play opportunities—Calgary 1 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Calgary, Ramo 15-13-4 (32 shots-31 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 37-13-7 (24-21). A—17,495 (19,204). T—2:25. Referees—Chris Lee, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—Michel Cormier, Brad Lazarowich.