NEW YORK — Vinny Lecavalier streaked toward the Rangers net on Sunday and the hopes of the Lightning went with him.
Tampa Bay had fallen behind 31 seconds into the game at Madison Square Garden and this was a chance to equalize and shift the momentum. Instead, the puck jumped off the captain's stick as he tried to deke goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the chance was lost.
That is what it has been like for Tampa Bay during a four-game losing streak in which it has been outscored 14-6. Blown scoring chances have been the scourge.
Not just any scoring chances, mind you, we're talking primo stuff, odd-man rushes that would seem to favor the team with the puck.
But in a 5-1 loss to the Rangers, four odd-man rushes in the first period gained nothing. Convert just one and the complexion of the game changes.
In a 2-1 loss to the Flyers on Feb. 5, three two-on-ones also netted zip.
"It's weird to say," coach Guy Boucher said, "our downfall has been our offense."
There is plenty of other blame to go around.
Defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo committed bad turnovers that led to stinging goals during the just-finished 0-3 road trip. And during the four-game losing streak that dropped Tampa Bay to 6-5-0, goaltenders Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon have combined for a 3.55 goals-against average and .876 save percentage.
But on a team with Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Teddy Purcell and Cory Conacher, the inability to finish scoring plays has been extraordinary.
Consider this list of woe:
St. Louis has zero goals in nine games, Purcell and Conacher zero in four, Stamkos zero in three, Lecavalier one in four.
"It's surprising," Boucher said. "I'd love to say I'll help them put it in, but we're not going to put it in for them. They're doing the right thing. They're in the right place. They're shooting at the right time. It's just not going in."
Against the Rangers, a two-on-one with St. Louis and Stamkos ended with St. Louis' backhand going off Lundqvist's stick shaft. Another ended with Stamkos' shot blocked. A well-executed two-on-one, with Lecavalier's perfect pass to a hard-skating Conacher, was thwarted by Lundqvist's right-leg save.
"That's the reason we're not getting those W's, because we're not capitalizing on those chances," Conacher said. "You've just got to bear down, give it all you've got. You've got to make the right play, don't take a shot off, don't muff it in there because the goalie is going to make the save; die to get that goal in the net."
Until that happens — perhaps tonight against the Canadiens at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the Lightning is 5-1 and has outscored opponents 32-16 — Boucher admitted the drought will eat at player confidence.
"That's what's going on right now," he said. "It's starting to frustrate guys. It's getting into some of the guys' heads and they're trying to find other ways. That's what you don't want to do when you're slumping is figure out other ways that don't work. Then you skid lower."
Boucher was referring to what he calls "hope plays" that try to create scoring opportunities outside the team's system. That not only affects the players, he said, but team's defensive posture.
"It's a test of patience," he said. "We have to stick to it and keep games close so when those chances come back again it's a tight game. Now, we're missing those goals and we get frustrated and we open it up, and it hurts."
"You've got to read the play," Stamkos said. "Hockey is a game of reaction. You have to take what they give you."
Lately, the Lightning hasn't even been able to do that.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]