MONTREAL — The Lightning felt it gave a much better effort Tuesday than Monday's "mailed-in" clunker in Ottawa.
"Two polar opposite games," wing Ryan Callahan said.
But after losing 4-2 to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, Tampa Bay might want to send out a search party for the team that had won 10 of 11 before this forgettable 48-hour trek through eastern Canada.
The Lightning has lost back-to-back games for the first time since late December. But of more concern is how it happened, getting outscored a combined 9-3 by two desperate teams behind them in the standings.
"We're not going to panic over 48 hours," coach Jon Cooper said. "This is a humbling league. You can't get comfortable at any time."
The Lightning (29-20-4) can ill afford the streak to snowball this weekend, considering it's just one point ahead of ninth place in the East.
"That run we had took us back in the race," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "But by no means did we clinch or anything and we know that."
The biggest issue has been leaky play defensively, with Tampa Bay giving up too much time and space in dangerous areas.
There was an offensive-zone turnover that led to the Canadiens first goal by Brendan Gallagher on a 3-on-2 rush. There was loose zone coverage, like in Montreal's second goal by Tomas Plekanec, who pounced on a loose puck in front.
Goaltender Ben Bishop, who made 23 saves, was often left hung out to dry. He was 10-1-3 with a 1.62 goals-against average in his career against Montreal coming in and the Canadiens hadn't beaten the Lightning in regulation since April 18, 2013.
"You can't give up eight plus goals in two games and expect to win," captain Steven Stamkos said.
Cooper said it has been "alarming" how many goals the Lightning has allowed in recent games.
"We're going nowhere if we don't tighten up in the d-zone," he said.
And the once balanced offensive attack has gone dry.
Despite outshooting Montreal 39-27 Tuesday, including hitting a few posts, Tampa Bay mustered two goals. The Lightning's third line of J.T. Brown, Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula has combined for two of the team's three goals the past two games, with the top two lines coming up empty.
"When your top guys aren't scoring, it makes it a little tougher for us," Cooper said.
Tampa Bay was playing without top-four defenseman Jason Garrison (lower-body injury), with Matt Carle taking his place. That not only left a hole on the blueline, but also sparked the top pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman to sometimes get split up.
Hedman scored midway through the third to cut Montreal's lead to 4-2, but the Lightning got no closer.
For the second straight game, the Lightning pulled its goalie out of desperation, Bishop leaving the net with just over three minutes to go.
With Nashville coming into town Friday and St. Louis on Sunday, the Lightning will need to find its mojo again quick.
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Montreal, Gallagher 14 (Plekanec), 5:56. Penalties—Paquette, TB, major (fighting), 2:51; Beaulieu, Mon, major (fighting), 2:51; Emelin, Mon (hooking), 10:06; Smith-Pelly, Mon (roughing), 17:58.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Filppula 7 (Hedman), :40. 3, Montreal, Plekanec 11 (Gallagher, Barberio), 6:40. 4, Montreal, Smith-Pelly 5 (Subban, Eller), 19:52. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (holding stick), 12:01; Subban, Mon (interference), 13:06; Carle, TB (cross-checking), 16:45.
Third Period—5, Montreal, Plekanec 12 (Galchenyuk, Emelin), 6:17. 6, Tampa Bay, Hedman 5 (Filppula, Callahan), 9:03. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 12-11-16—39. Montreal 9-12-6—27. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Montreal 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 21-15-3 (27 shots-23 saves). Montreal, Scrivens 3-4-0 (39-37). A—21,288 (21,287). T—2:33. Referees—Eric Furlatt, Ghislain Hebert. Linesmen—Shandor Alphonso, Derek Nansen.