TAMPA — Much will be made, and rightly so, about the Lightning's egregious defensive breakdowns in Thursday night's 3-1 loss to the Bruins at the St. Pete Times Forum.
In the end, though, the comatose offense was much more to blame.
Consider the Lightning for the 12th time scored fewer than three goals. Only twice has it scored more than three. No shock, then, the team is tied with the Senators for fewest goals in the league, and Ottawa has two fewer games.
"We're just not scoring," left wing Vinny Prospal said, "and it's costing us games."
Making it worse was that Tampa Bay (6-11-8 and on a 0-4-2 streak) played pretty well against the Northeast-leading Bruins, who are riding a 12-1-1 surge.
For only the second time, the Lightning faced fewer than 30 shots, outshooting Boston 31-26. It took a 1-0 lead 1:21 in on Marty St. Louis' sixth goal, helped by Vinny Lecavalier's franchise-record 340th assist.
But as Lecavalier said, "We just couldn't get that second goal."
Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas had something to do with it, outdueling Tampa Bay's Mike Smith with 30 saves. But the Lightning couldn't finish, either. Steve Downie is still probably shaking his head over not getting the puck past a diving Thomas 27 seconds into the second period. It meant little margin for error against the No. 1 team in the East.
"We had no margin for error," coach Rick Tocchet said. "It's like we have to play so perfect, and in this league you can't play perfect to win."
Because there is this:
Defenseman Steve Eminger's poor clearing attempt was intercepted. Lecavalier and Paul Ranger missed defensive assignments, and Phil Kessel scored with 7:39 left in the second period for a 1-1 tie.
David Krejci scored short-handed 8:17 into the third after Mark Recchi's offensive zone pass was intercepted and Ranger, who was minus-3, took himself out of the play by leaving his feet trying to disrupt the breakaway.
Kessel's empty-netter was window dressing.
"If you're scoring five or six goals, maybe those mistakes don't look as big in the whole picture, but right now they're costing us wins," Smith said.
What is the solution to the mass drought?
"You're looking for character guys right now," Tocchet said. "It's easy to go hide. I'm looking for the guys to get back on the front lines, practice tomorrow, get out there, shoot some pucks and pay attention in practice."
And perhaps take a lesson from the Bruins, who, as Thomas said, "stuck with our game plan. … You don't want to change your game. You just want to kind of let it come to you, and that's what we did."
To an extent, Tampa Bay did not.
"When things are snowballing, you lose confidence; you start not trusting your system," Tocchet said. "If you watch guys, they'll do something out of character. They'll leave the zone when they shouldn't. They won't dump the puck because they're trying an extra move.
"That's what we're tying to say: Stick with what we're telling you. It's going to get better, but if you try to do the individual stuff, it just prolongs the slump."
The bottom line?
"We have to roll up our sleeves and keep going," Tocchet said. "We've got to try and find some scoring somehow."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 6 (Lecavalier, Malone), 1:21. Penalties—Nokelainen, Bos (holding), 2:23; Malik, TB (holding), 7:51; Kobasew, Bos (hooking), 14:37.
Second Period—2, Boston, Kessel 14 (Savard, Lucic), 12:21. Penalties—None.
Third Period—3, Boston, Krejci 8 (Wheeler), 8:17 (sh). 4, Boston, Kessel 15 (Savard, Hunwick), 19:59 (en). Penalties—Hnidy, Bos (holding), 6:31. Shots on Goal—Boston 9-8-9—26. Tampa Bay 9-13-9—31. Power-play opportunities—Boston 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Boston, Thomas 10-3-3 (31 shots-30 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 5-7-7 (25-23). A—15,598 (19,758).