TAMPA — The good news for the Lightning is it plays tonight against the Capitals in Washington.
If it didn't, center Steven Stamkos said, if there was a practice instead, players likely would have paid for Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the Hurricanes at the Tampa Bay Times Forum with a grueling workout.
The Lightning, fighting for its playoff life, gave up four first-period goals to a team that entered the game last in the Eastern Conference.
"That was borderline embarrassing in the first period," Stamkos said. "It doesn't seem like there's any urgency right now when there needs to be. Our season is on the line, and we're not playing like it."
"We have almost a full crowd here every night. And we show up in the first period, and we give the fans that," center Nate Thompson said. "It is embarrassing."
It also is difficult to explain.
Tampa Bay (17-21-4) played well in Tuesday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Canucks, the top team in the West. But instead of building on that, it came out flat against a team that had not scored five goals in a game since Dec. 7 and lost its fifth straight game.
It is a malady the Lightning has battled all season.
"I don't think we're being very respectful to a team like Carolina or anybody else that is a little lower in the standings," coach Guy Boucher said. "We can't have that. We're not in a position to think we're better than any other team."
Thompson and Teddy Purcell scored for the Lightning, and the team tied a season high with 18 shots in the second period.
But the power play was 0-for-2 and is on a 2-for-35 streak. Vinny Lecavalier and Pavel Kubina were minus-3, and Tampa Bay had no answer for the line of Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu and Jiri Tlusty, which combined for three goals and nine points.
Boucher pulled Mathieu Garon, who gave up three goals on eight shots in 15 minutes, but said, "I didn't want to blame the goaltender, but I had to do something. That's the easiest thing to do."
It certainly would have been tougher to bench everyone who blew a defensive-zone coverage or didn't skate hard.
"It just shows a lack of preparation," Boucher said. "I would say this is the hardest one to take this year. We always talk about attitude first, work ethic and discipline. In the first period, we had none of those."
And now Tampa Bay, eight points out of the playoffs, is just one point ahead of last-place Carolina in the Southeast Division.
"We're just lucky we play (tonight)," Stamkos said, "so we don't have to deal with the consequences."
First Period—1, Carolina, Ruutu 15 (E.Staal, Tlusty), 3:27. 2, Carolina, Tlusty 8 (E.Staal), 4:41. 3, Tampa Bay, Thompson 4, 14:36. 4, Carolina, Harrison 6 (Ruutu, Faulk), 15:10. 5, Carolina, Tlusty 9 (E.Staal, Ruutu), 16:18. Penalties—Harrison, Car (cross-checking), 12:08; Harrison, Car, major (fighting), 17:13; Malone, TB, major (fighting), 17:13.
Second Period—6, Tampa Bay, Purcell 8 (Gervais, Stamkos), 2:49. Penalties—None.
Third Period—7, Carolina, Brent 5 (Stewart, Harrison), 13:41. Penalties—E.Staal, Car (tripping), 5:16; St. Louis, TB (tripping), 10:39. Shots on Goal—Carolina 12-11-9—32. Tampa Bay 11-18-7—36. Power-play opportunities—Carolina 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—Carolina, Ward 15-16-6 (36 shots-34 saves). Tampa Bay, Garon 11-12-2 (8-5), Roloson (15:10 first, 24-22). A—16,553 (19,204).