NEWARK, N.J. — The puck whistled over Dan Ellis' glove, and the Lightning goaltender dipped his head in despair.
Much went wrong for Tampa Bay in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Devils at the Prudential Center. New Jersey's five goals, including two empty-netters, in the third period attested to that.
But it was David Clarkson's goal from 40 feet that went untouched and past an unobstructed Ellis that was the turning point.
The power-play goal 4:14 into the third tied the score 2-2 and gave the Devils hope. And Tampa Bay (25-13-5) finished a 2-2 road trip with a blown opportunity to tie the Flyers atop the East.
"I did," Ellis said when asked if he got a good look at Clarkson's shot. "But he just ended up walking in and teeing it up on me."
The loss was against a team the Lightning should beat.
The Devils (11-29-2) are, points-wise, the NHL's worst team and entered 2-15 since Dec. 2 and on a 20-game streak without scoring more than three goals.
Tampa Bay was on a streak of its own, having gone 18-0-1 entering the third period with a lead. And first-period goals by Teddy Purcell, his first in 13 games, and Ryan Malone, breaking the team's 0-for-13 drought on the power play, forged a 2-1 edge.
"But you've got to be disciplined, especially in the third period. And I don't just mean with penalties," defenseman Randy Jones said. "I mean structurally; turnovers. Things that get you wins, we got away from in the third. I'd say it snowballed, and we all know the end result."
Clarkson scored after Lightning center Dominic Moore's tripping penalty in the offensive zone and left wing Simon Gagne did a poor job clearing the puck.
Dainius Zubrus' goal that made it 4-2 with 5:54 left came off a defensive-zone giveaway by defenseman Victor Hedman. And Tampa Bay's power play, now on a 1-for-17 streak, had just one shot in the third in 4:36 of work.
It didn't help that Malone was lost for most of the third after taking stitches above his right eye from Andy Greene's high stick and that Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was sharp in making 33 saves.
"Very disappointing," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We lost the game because we were scored on on the penalty kill when we shouldn't have been on the penalty kill. And after that, we had many chances to shoot (on the power play), and we didn't. I thought we did really well in the first and second, but the third period wasn't enough."
"We just have to find a way to regroup," Ellis said. "Even if it gets tied up, you can't let things unravel like that."
And Ellis can't allow a goal like that.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Purcell 7 (Ritola, Downie), 2:36. 2, NJ, Clarkson 6 (Sestito, Pelley), 5:55. 3, Tampa Bay, Malone 11 (Lecavalier, St. Louis), 16:01 (pp). Penalties—Kubina, TB (tripping), 10:14; Tallinder, NJ (hooking), 15:13.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Ritola, TB (hooking), 12:21; Zubrus, NJ (hooking), 19:15.
Third Period—4, NJ, Clarkson 7 (Kovalchuk, Elias), 4:14 (pp). 5, NJ, Arnott 10 (Tallinder, Zharkov), 7:52. 6, NJ, Zubrus 6 (Rolston, Elias), 14:06. 7, NJ, Elias 9 (Rolston), 18:45 (en). 8, Tampa Bay, Moore 7 (Hall, Ohlund), 19:08. 9, NJ, Palmieri 1 (Kovalchuk, Brodeur), 19:46 (en). Penalties—Moore, TB (tripping), 2:46; Greene, NJ, double minor (high-sticking), 4:22; Stamkos, TB (cross-checking), 7:43. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 13-13-10—36. NJ 5-11-10—26. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 4; NJ 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Ellis 11-7-5 (24 shots-20 saves). NJ, Brodeur 6-18-1 (36-33). A—16,197 (17,625).