TORONTO — Captain Steven Stamkos joked that he was bored at times during Monday's relaxing off-day visit to his parents' house.
Imagine how Lightning fans felt after watching an admittedly flat Tampa Bay team in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the last-place Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
"It was a really disappointing game," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "One team came to win a hockey game, the other team came out thinking they were going to win the hockey game. That was it."
Stamkos said when the Lightning, the defending Eastern Conference champions, doesn't compete, it is just an "average team." And after mustering 11 shots in the first two periods, Tampa Bay lost to 30th-ranked Toronto, which featured seven players who spent most of the season in the AHL.
"It doesn't matter who you're playing — give an effort," said Stamkos, who was a minus-3. "We can't come out with an effort like that in the first two periods and expect to win games in this league."
It has been an alarming trend for the Lightning (40-25-5) in the past few weeks. After a franchise-record nine-game winning streak, Tampa Bay has dropped four of five. It had a chance Tuesday to move into first place in the Atlantic Division, instead falling to third. It was especially surprising considering the Lightning's bounce-back performance Sunday in a 4-0 win in Columbus.
"It's too much inconsistency right now," veteran wing Ryan Callahan said. "We're having a couple bad games, a good game, bad game, and at this time of year, we shouldn't be doing that, it's not good enough. We have to find consistency to our game. We know we can do it. It's just a matter of bringing it every night and not taking these nights off."
The Lightning tied it at 1 seven minutes into the third on Brian Boyle's goal. But 2:34 later, the Maple Leafs took the lead for good on a goal by right wing Ben Smith, who beat Stamkos to a rebound off a rush.
"Breakdown," Stamkos said. "Good teams don't do that when they find a way to get back in the game."
Scoring a timely power-play goal would help, but the Lightning went 0-for-3, extending its slump to 0-for-19, an eight-game drought. "It loses us games," Stamkos said. "That's not fun." It put a hard-luck loss on goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had beaten Toronto (24-34-11) in the first three meetings this season. He made 20 saves, and two of Toronto's goals were into an empty net.
Boyle said the Lightning needs to "have more pride," and learn its lesson. And it won't get any easier Thursday in Dallas against the Stars.
"We're not in the playoffs yet," Cooper said. "One team has clinched (Washington) and it's not us. We've got a long way to go."
First Period—None. Penalties—Toronto bench, served by Parenteau (too many men), 3:53.
Second Period—1, Toronto, C.Carrick 1 (Holland, Greening), 13:34. Penalties—Corrado, Tor (interference), :33; Marchessault, TB (slashing), 15:55; Stamkos, TB (tripping), 19:11.
Third Period—2, Tampa Bay, Boyle 11 (Stralman), 6:33. 3, Toronto, B.Smith 1 (Grabner, Michalek), 9:07. 4, Toronto, Hyman 3 (B.Smith, Marincin), 18:27 (en). 5, Toronto, Parenteau 17, 19:47 (en). Penalties—Stralman, TB (boarding), :25; Stamkos, TB (roughing), 2:35; Holland, Tor, served by Parenteau, double minor (roughing), 2:35; Callahan, TB (slashing), 17:22; Parenteau, Tor (interference), 17:22. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-6-16—27. Toronto 6-9-9—24. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Toronto 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 11-7-0 (22 shots-20 saves). Toronto, Bernier 9-18-3 (27-26). A—0 (18,819). T—2:27. Referees—Eric Furlatt, Mike Leggo. Linesmen—Kiel Murchison, Vaughan Rody.