ST. LOUIS — The Lightning insisted it has pinpointed its problem, though cautioned a turnaround won't happen overnight.
But Tampa Bay believed it made some progress in Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Blues at the Scottrade Center.
"A step in the right direction," center Tyler Johnson said.
It wasn't enough. The Lightning (13-11-1) extended its losing streak to a season-high four games, including getting swept on a three-game road trip.
But Tampa Bay showed it has a lot of fight left, rallying from a three-goal deficit to pull within one twice in the third period.
"I thought we deserved points," coach Jon Cooper said.
Special teams were the difference. The Blues went 4-for-7 on the power play. St. Louis had 10 minutes with the man advantage, compared to Tampa Bay's 10 seconds, going 1-for-2.
"Our (penalty kill) cost us the game," said defenseman Anton Stralman, who returned after missing nine games with an upper-body injury. "Five-on-five, we might be the better team."
Cooper, hoping to spark his team, shook up the lineup, starting backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in consecutive games for the first time this season. Center Vladislav Namestnikov was a healthy scratch, with forward callups Joel Vermin and Michael Bournival getting a shot. Vermin had two assists, as did linemate Jonathan Drouin, and Cedric Paquette scored twice. "(Vermin) was outstanding," Cooper said. "That whole line was good."
But Tampa Bay's issues continued to be in the defensive zone, where turnovers continued to come back to bite the Lightning. A failed clearing attempt on the penalty kill led to a goal. The Lightning has given up 19 goals in its four-game skid. And the problem won't get easier to solve with veteran defenseman Jason Garrison getting hurt blocking a shot late in the second period.
Tampa Bay, which hasn't won in St. Louis since 2009, could have cashed it in after falling behind 4-1. But a Johnson goal with five minutes left in the second period made it 4-2 by intermission. "We're like, 'No big deal,' " Paquette said.
"We kept going," Cooper said. "The guys thought it was a winnable game."
Nikita Kucherov made it 4-3 on a power-play goal early in the third. And after the Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko scored a potentially back-breaking, hat-trick-clinching goal off a rush almost seven minutes later, the Lightning responded with Paquette's second goal.
Ben Bishop, who relieved Vasilevskiy early in the second after the Blues made it 4-1, gave Tampa Bay a chance to win with key saves. And you started to see the Lightning regain some confidence. It was skating. It was creating chances. The effort was just not enough. But considering the Lightning started from scratch at Wednesday's practice, it was an encouraging performance, one Cooper hopes it can build on heading into Saturday's game against the Capitals.
"I thought it was a step forward," Stralman said. "But you want the two points. That's the bottom line."
First—1, STL, Tarasenko 11 (Parayko), 1:39. 2, STL, Tarasenko 12 (Steen, Shattenkirk), 9:37 (pp). 3, TB, Paquette 2 (Drouin, Vermin), 10:39. 4, STL, Shattenkirk 5 (Steen, Fabbri), 13:17 (pp). Penalties—Nesterov, TB, (interference), 1:52; Coburn, TB, (delay of game), 8:38; Palat, TB, (slashing), 12:45.
Second—5, STL, Shattenkirk 6 (Tarasenko, Steen), 1:44 (pp). 6, TB, Johnson 8 (Palat, Kucherov), 14:25. Penalties—TB bench, served by Point (too many men on the ice), 1:17; Johnson, TB, (kneeing), 9:27; Sustr, TB, (slashing), 18:54.
Third—7, TB, Kucherov 12 (Hedman, Boyle), 1:41 (pp). 8, STL, Tarasenko 13 (Shattenkirk, Fabbri), 8:11. 9, TB, Paquette 3 (Drouin, Vermin), 11:56. Penalties—Bouwmeester, STL, (hook), 1:34; Paquette, TB, (delay game), 12:59; Stastny, STL, (delay of game), 19:57. SOG—TB 7-7-12—26. STL 14-6-6—26. PP opps—TB 1 of 2; STL 3 of 7. Goalies—TB, Bishop 7-9-0 (10 shots-9 saves), Vasilevskiy 6-2-1 (16-12). STL, Allen 12-3-3 (26-22).