TAMPA — No one questions how hard the Lightning worked in Sunday's game with the Penguins or how much it wanted to win.
But when breaking down the 2-1 loss at the St. Pete Times Forum, this cannot be ignored: Tampa Bay went a stretch of 23 minutes, 4 seconds without a shot.
No coincidence that in that span, which began with 5:26 remaining in the second period and ended with 2:22 left in the third, Pittsburgh scored twice — Sergei Gonchar's winner came on the power play 5:17 into the third — to overcome a 1-0 deficit.
"That's not good, obviously," wing Mark Parrish said. "You just have to find a way to get it on net. Even if it's a wrister from the blue line, guys crashing the net, any way you can to get it to the net. You just have to do it."
What the Lightning (28-28-12) has to do now is dig in.
With 14 games left, Tampa Bay is four points behind the Bruins for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East and three points behind the ninth-place Rangers.
And the team is hurting.
Star center Steven Stamkos has a bruised lower back from a first-period check from Brooks Orpik. He walked stiffly after the game, and it is unclear whether he will play Tuesday against the Coyotes.
Defenseman Mattias Ohlund, hurt Thursday against the Maple Leafs, is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain. And coach Rick Tocchet made reference to left wing Marty St. Louis being banged up.
"You're relying on a lot of guys. You're relying on Stammer and Marty," Tocchet said. "Those guys were banged up (Sunday), and it was tough."
Still, until the drought, which resulted in the Lightning being outshot 15-5 in the third period and 39-22 in the game, it played well, with energy on offense, discipline on defense and a second straight strong game from goalie Antero Niittymaki. Vinny Lecavalier's 20th goal 8:09 into the second period gave it a 1-0 lead.
"We really played well," Tocchet said. "They left it all out on the ice."
The trend reversed with the help of four consecutive Lightning penalties early in the third: Kurtis Foster (boarding), Paul Szczechura (delay of game) and Victor Hedman (roughing, high-sticking).
That gave Pittsburgh 5:31 of power-play time. Gonchar's goal, 2:57 after Pascal Dupuis tied it, came with Szczechura in the box.
"We gave them power plays and gave them momentum to get back in it," Lecavalier said. "Not that you lose your legs, but you have to sit back and play defensive hockey. It took a lot out of us. But once those were over and it was our chance to go, we gave everything we had."
By then, it wasn't enough.
First Period—None. Penalties—Downie, TB (roughing), :40; Guerin, Pit (interference), 1:57; Malkin, Pit (roughing), 8:18.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 20 (Fedoruk, Hedman), 8:09. Penalties—Purcell, TB (interference), 19:17.
Third Period—2, Pittsburgh, Dupuis 17 (Staal, Cooke), 2:20. 3, Pittsburgh, Gonchar 10 (Crosby, Ponikarovsky), 5:17 (pp). Penalties—Foster, TB (boarding), 3:03; Szczechura, TB (delay of game), 4:54; Fedotenko, Pit (roughing), 6:41; Hedman, TB (roughing, high-sticking), 6:41; Staal, Pit (slashing), 16:20; Orpik, Pit (tripping), 19:24; Downie, TB (cross-checking), 19:24. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 13-11-15—39. Tampa Bay 10-7-5—22. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 1 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Fleury 32-17-4 (22 shots-21 saves). Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 18-13-5 (39-37). A—20,230 (19,758). T—2:24.