SAN JOSE, Cali - Coach Jon Cooper said his team is in desperation mode, where it needs points out of every game to get back in the playoff race.
That's why this one hurts, a 2-1 loss to the Sharks at the SAP Center Thursday night. The Lightning (21-21-5), for the second straight game, played well enough to earn two points, but once again fell short.
This time, Tampa Bay left completely empty-handed, leaving it with three points in the first three games of this make-or-break road trip. With no margin for error, the Lightning can't afford many of these regulation losses.
"You've got to really feel for the guys in there," Cooper said. "We could have six points and we wouldn't even blink an eye. We've got three. It's killing us."
Logan Couture scored the winner 22 seconds into the third period, his bouncing shot from the slot slipping through the legs of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. While Vasilevskiy would likely want that shot back, Cooper said the team could have had better coverage in front on Couture, who was open and collected a loose puck from a board battle.
"(The puck) somehow found its way through," defenseman Anton Stralman said of the Couture goal. "That's the kind of stuff that makes it a little bit more frustrating. We're not getting those (breaks) right now."
The Lightning had its share of scoring chances, including Valtteri Filppula's wraparound in the third that came inches away from tying the game. Give Sharks backup goalie Aaron Dell credit for his 24 saves. But Tampa Bay's offense continues to sputter, with just five goals in its last four games.
"It's not for a lack of trying, not for lack of chances," Cooper said. "The sights are off, too many missed nets."
Said Stralman: "We're doing all the right things. It's just that finishing touch that's not there."
The Lightning, playing its third straight game without top defenseman Victor Hedman, continued its strong defensive stretch. It gave up two or fewer regulation goals for the third straight game. The Sharks struck first five minutes into the second period. Center Ryan Carpenter ripped a shot from the right circle that deflected in off Lightning defenseman Nikita Nesterov, beating Vasilevskiy. The goal was a bad break, but Tampa Bay didn't help itself with two turnovers that led to it. "The goals are preventable goals," Cooper said.
But Tampa Bay bounced back quickly, just a couple minutes later, on a dazzling power play goal by Jonathan Drouin. Drouin, who has amassed several highlight-reel moments this week alone, delivered again. After losing the puck above the blueline near the Lightning bench, Drouin regrouped and blew past not only Mikkell Boedker, but stout defenseman Marc-Eduoard Vlasic before wrapping it around goalie Aaaron Dell.
"That's just a big time skill play by a big time skill player," Cooper said.
It just wasn't enough.