TAMPA — Coach Jon Cooper called his team "comfortable" Friday.
"Maybe you get a little too overconfident," wing Alex Killorn admitted.
After a franchise-record nine-game winning streak put the Lightning in first place in the Atlantic Division, the defending Eastern Conference champions exhaled. And it has cost them dearly. The Lightning has dropped three straight heading into today's game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus, a game that opens a crucial four-game road trip.
"You take your foot off the pedal for a brief second, you catch your wind, and the other team is coming," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "That's how good the league is."
Tampa Bay isn't the first team to experience a skid after a streak. The Blackhawks lost three of four after rattling off 12 wins in a row this season. The Panthers went on a four-game losing streak after 12 straight victories. The Ducks have lost three in a row after 11 straight wins.
Bowness said the tendency is for bad habits to creep in, even when a team is winning, with coaches warning those habits eventually will come back to bite it.
"The more you win, the more opponents bring their 'A' game; they want to be the team that ends your (streak)," Bowness said. "Then all of a sudden you get your (butt) handed to you and you have to get it going again."
Center Tyler Johnson lamented how the Lightning didn't do the "little things" in Friday's 3-1 loss to the Flyers. Goalie Ben Bishop said the team was "too cute" offensively.
"You get away from the work ethic necessary," Bowness said. "Because you go on the ice and it's, 'Okay, this is going good.' You forget there's a process to make that go good. The process is preparing yourself; you've got to prepare to make things happen. (You can't) go on the ice expecting things to happen; the league is too good."
The Lightning came close to getting shut out for the second consecutive game Friday, held to 19 shots. It took Brian Boyle scoring with an extra attacker in the final 21/2 minutes, putting in a rebound in front, to get Tampa Bay on the board.
That kind of dirty goal is what the Lightning needs more of, Bishop said.
"We've got to look in the mirror here," Bishop said. "It's obviously not a good enough effort to score one goal in two games. We've got to be better. We've got to play a little more north-south, get those dirty goals, get back to basics the way we're playing on the road. Get to the net and good things happen."
Johnson said that with the Lightning's offensive talent, "sometimes we maybe try to skill it out a little too much."
"You just got to remember to get your nose dirty every night," Bowness said. "The more you win, the less willing you are to get your nose dirty. We've got to get back to that."
Tampa Bay has been through this before. It lost four of five last month after a streak of 10 wins in 11 games. The Lightning responded with its nine-game winning streak.
With just 14 games remaining in the regular season, captain Steven Stamkos said Tampa Bay — holding on to a top-three spot in the division — needs to bounce back in similar fashion.
"Guys have to realize that this time of year, nothing is easy," Stamkos said. "There are teams playing desperate hockey. Just because you might think you're comfortable in a spot, any given night can swing a lot of things. We know that from previous years, and we have to show that desperation."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.