TAMPA — When Senators coach Guy Boucher made his return to Amalie Arena on Thursday, he said he had plenty of belief that his former Lightning team could be a threat.
"I still think they're a Stanley Cup contender, big time," Boucher said.
You'll have to forgive Boucher; he hadn't seen Tampa Bay live since early October. The Lightning hasn't looked like a contender for a while, and it fell further out of playoff contention with a 5-2 loss to the Senators. Tampa Bay (22-24-6) has opened a crucial four-game homestand with back-to-back losses to teams it is chasing, and it has dropped six of seven overall.
This is uncharted territory for a preseason Stanley Cup favorite, and coach Jon Cooper said it will test the mental fortitude of the team.
"The results take a toll on you night after night," veteran C Brian Boyle said. "We can't take the attitude that we're getting kicked while we're down, because I don't think any other team is feeling sorry for us right now and is going to give us a charity win along the way."
For the second straight game, the Lightning blew a one-goal second-period lead. Cooper said it's like the Lightning is almost waiting for a bad thing to happen. That did again Thursday, when the Senators scored three straight after the Lightning took a 1-0 lead, two goals coming on power plays.
Tampa Bay generated 21 shots for the second straight game, matching its second-lowest total of the season. And when C Brayden Point pulled the Lightning within one goal at 3-2 eight minutes into the third, the Senators answered less than two minutes later on a deflection by Mark Stone.
Said Cooper: "It seems every time we start taking a step forward, we take two steps back."
First Period—None. Penalties—Brassard, OTT, (holding stick), 10:13.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Johnson 16 (Kucherov), 3:39. 2, Ottawa, Stone 17 (Smith, Ceci), 6:33. 3, Ottawa, Turris 18 (Karlsson, Hoffman), 11:03 (pp). Penalties—Filppula, TB, (tripping), 0:48; Coburn, TB, (interference), 10:20; Namestnikov, TB, (high sticking), 11:49; Phaneuf, OTT, (tripping), 18:30.
Third Period—4, Ottawa, Hoffman 18 (Turris, Stone), 2:53 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Point 5 (Boyle, Palat), 7:46. 6, Ottawa, Stone 18 (Brassard, Karlsson), 9:22. 7, Ottawa, Kelly 4 (Karlsson), 19:35. Penalties—Palat, TB, (interference), 2:24; Stone, OTT, (high sticking), 5:33; Dotchin, TB, (interference), 17:07. Shots on Goal—Ottawa 7-13-10—30. Tampa Bay 5-9-7—21. Power-play opportunities—Ottawa 2 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Ottawa, Condon 15-8-5 (21 shots-19 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 11-12-3 (29-25). A—19,092 (19,204). T—2:30. Referees—Kevin Pollock, Ian Walsh. Linesmen—Ryan Daisy, Tony Sericolo
STAMKOS UPDATE: GM Steve Yzerman said that though there's still no definite return date for C Steven Stamkos, the Lightning captain is "right on course" in his recovery from knee surgery.
Yzerman, speaking on the team's website show, said Stamkos visited his surgeon last week and "they're pleased with how he looks and where he's at."
Stamkos had surgery Nov. 17 to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and was expected to miss four months, which would put his return in March.
RW Ryan Callahan (hip) is still in the strengthening phase of his rehabilitation and is moving in the right direction, Yzerman said. The Lightning said in mid January that Callahan would be sidelined for another four weeks after missing time previously following offseason surgery.
"We're trying to get him back to 100 percent strength and get him back to play," Yzerman said. "When he returns to play, I don't have a date for you for that, either."
NUTS AND BOLTS: G Andrei Vasilevskiy started for the third time in the past four games, giving up four goals on 29 shots. … D Luke Witkowski returned to the lineup. D Andrej Sustr was a healthy scratch. … LW Michael Bournival (upper body) missed his third straight game but participated in the morning skate in a red no-contact jersey.