TAMPA — The Lightning's franchise-record winning streak — snapped just six days ago — all of a sudden seems like a distant memory.
After dropping three consecutive games, including Friday's deflating 3-1 defeat to the Flyers at Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay finds itself searching for answers as it prepares to head on a telling four-game road trip.
Philadelphia has beaten the Lightning twice this week, but what has been most troubling is how. The Flyers are playing like a team desperately fighting for a place in the postseason. Tampa Bay, with 14 games left, acts like it has already clinched a playoff spot.
"We're playing like we're a comfortable team that's in the playoffs," coach Jon Cooper said. "And if we're going to play like that, we won't make it. That's it."
The Lightning's nine-game winning streak propelled it into first place in the Atlantic Division. And Tampa Bay (39-24-5) is still in the top three in the division, just one point behind first-place Boston, with a game in hand.
But the Lightning is also just eight points ahead of the Flyers, who are in the ninth spot in the conference and two points out of the second wild card spot, and who have played two fewer games than Tampa Bay.
"Obviously, it's a tight race," goalie Ben Bishop said. "There's no room (for a losing streak). You see when you win nine in a row, you don't really go anywhere. It's important not to fall on the wrong side of things."
This performance wasn't nearly as bad as Monday's 4-2 loss in Philadelphia, which captain Steven Stamkos dubbed one of the worst games in his eight seasons with the Lightning. But unlike Tuesday's inspiring effort, in which Tampa Bay racked up 42 shots in a 1-0 overtime loss to Boston, the Lightning was rarely ever a threat. The split crowd could sense it, with loud "Let's Go Flyers" chants heard early and often.
The Flyers scored two power-play goals, one inadvertently knocked in by Lightning wing J.T. Brown. And the Lightning needed a goal by Brian Boyle with an extra attacker in the final minutes to thwart a second straight shutout.
"When the going got a little bit tough there, usually we get going, and we didn't," Cooper said. "We've got to have a little bit more fight in the game, and as the game went on, we didn't have it."
The Lightning was too cute offensively, Cooper said, settling for perimeter plays and not having enough net-front presence. Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason was sharp, and the Flyers blocked 20 shots.
"Little things win the game," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "And I don't think we did enough little things."
The Lightning's new-look power play — with five forwards — had just one opportunity and recorded zero shots.
Though teams go through tough stretches after long winning streaks — the Lightning lost four of five after winning 10 of 11 last month — it's the way Tampa Bay lost these two to Flyers that's concerning. How does the Lightning learn not to be too comfortable?
"If this (loss) isn't enough," Cooper said, "I'm not so sure what else is needed."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Philadelphia, Gagner 7, 8:57 (pp). Penalties—Stamkos, TB, double minor (high-sticking), 5:26; Read, Phi (holding), 10:06; Gostisbehere, Phi (embellishment), 17:47; Brown, TB (holding), 17:47.
Second Period—2, Philadelphia, Read 11 (MacDonald, Couturier), 3:34 (pp). 3, Philadelphia, Schenn 23 (Simmonds, Manning), 7:56. Penalties—Condra, TB (hooking), 2:21.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Boyle 10 (Stralman, Killorn), 17:18. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Philadelphia 6-9-7—22. Tampa Bay 7-7-5—19. Power-play opportunities—Philadelphia 2 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 1. Goalies—Philadelphia, Mason 16-15-7 (19 shots-18 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 28-18-4 (22-19). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:20. A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:20. Referees—Graham Skilliter, Chris Lee. Linesmen—Shandor Alphonso, Jonny Murray.