TAMPA — This is what it has come down to for the Lightning:
"We're looking for anything," coach Rick Tocchet said, "a puck going off a guy's face, anything to get yourself going."
Because if the team keeps going as it did in Tuesday night's 2-1 loss to the Coyotes at the St. Pete Times Forum, it is going nowhere but home after the regular season.
Tampa Bay has hit a dry spell at a very bad time, scoring one goal and losing by one in consecutive games.
The consequences are dire as the Lightning (28-29-12), on a 2-8-1 streak and below .500 for the first time since Jan. 19, fell to 11th in the East with 13 games left, six points behind the eighth-place Bruins for the final playoff spot.
"You don't want to go into the last 10 games having to win all 10," right wing Brandon Bochenski said. "We're starting to put ourselves in that situation. We have to make a pretty good run."
What the Lightning needed to do against Phoenix was get to the net to create chances and traffic, and not let smoking-hot goalie Ilya Bryzgalov settle in.
It worked for Todd Fedoruk, whose deflection of Bochenski's pass with 3:53 left in the second period made the score 2-1. But, generally, "We weren't doing that," said Fedoruk, whose third goal of the season was his first since Oct. 29. "We weren't going there. We were going on the outside. We were going halfway. You can't win like that."
When chances did occur, either Bryzgalov made one of his 27 saves or Tampa Bay whiffed. The most egregious examples: Bochenski missing an open net 7:57 into the third period, about five minutes after captain Vinny Lecavalier missed a tougher shot but at a net just as wide open.
"I'm going to score that 99 out of 100," Bochenski said. "It bounced off (my stick) funny and didn't go in. It's tough. Everything in your head is telling you it's going to go in and it doesn't."
That kind of thing makes defensive mistakes stand out even more.
The Coyotes took a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Vernon Fiddler, after Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Smaby coughed up the puck behind the net; and Matthew Lombardi, whose tip-in came after he beat Smaby in a race to the crease.
It is unfair to put all the first-period blame on the defense as Tampa Bay was outshot 13-8.
"I would never question the team being scared," Tocchet said, "but we looked nervous, nobody wanted the puck."
All of which turned a game Tocchet had called a "must-must" win into a huge-huge disappointment.
First Period—1, Phoenix, Fiddler 7 (Stempniak), 7:56. 2, Phoenix, Lombardi 16 (Wolski, Doan), 9:45. Penalties—None.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Fedoruk 3 (Bochenski, Parrish), 16:07. Penalties—Jovanovski, Pho (holding), 1:26; Fedoruk, TB (slashing), 6:33; Hanzal, Pho (cross-checking), 13:06.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Nokelainen, Pho (hooking), 2:53; Yandle, Pho (high-sticking), 5:56; Downie, TB (tripping), 6:26; Meszaros, TB (holding), 12:28. Shots on Goal—Phoenix 13-6-9—28. Tampa Bay 8-13-7—28. Power-play opportunities—Phoenix 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Phoenix, Bryzgalov 37-18-4 (28 shots-27 saves). Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 18-14-5 (28-26). A—14,517 (19,758). T—2:22. Referees—Bill McCreary, Brian Pochmara. Linesmen—Tim Nowak, Vaughan Rody.