NEWARK, N.J. — Ryan Malone said he never had less fun scoring a hat trick.
"When you lose, you lose," the Lightning left wing said. "It doesn't matter."
And boy did Tampa Bay lose, 6-4 to the Devils on Thursday night at the Prudential Center, done in by a second period in which New Jersey had an 18-5 shot advantage and scored four times to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
"We weren't very smart with the puck," Malone said.
"We did a lot of turnovers," captain Vinny Lecavalier said.
To put it bluntly, coach Guy Boucher said, "We got what we deserved."
It was the second straight defeat for the Lightning (37-37-5), which is two points — either lost by Tampa Bay or gained by the Sabres — from being eliminated from the playoff race.
And it included another second-period meltdown.
In its past four second periods, the Lightning has been outshot 61-16 and outscored 9-3. In its past six games, it has been outshot 225-127, including 38-20 by New Jersey.
For Boucher, it is no mystery.
"We get away from what works," he said. "What works is the simple stuff. We get into the fancy stuff in the second period, and we turn it over. We stop shooting, we stick-handle through guys … and instead of playing deep in the other team's zone, we turn it over around the blue line, and it costs us momentum and goals, and we get fatigued because of it."
Much has been made of a Tampa Bay lineup depleted by injuries and trades, and with seven players who were this season in the minors. That is no excuse for not executing the plan, Boucher said.
"If the other team is better and we do the right things and they beat us, congratulations," he said. "But when we give it to them in the second period, it is unacceptable."
An offensive-zone giveaway by Steven Stamkos led to Dainius Zubrus' shorthanded goal. A defensive zone giveaway by Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman's inability to control a rebound also led to goals, as did Malone's inability to control a puck along the boards.
A rough outing by Dwayne Roloson did not help, and he was pulled 6:05 into the third after allowing six goals on 34 shots.
Malone said his fourth career hat trick wasn't that great, either. One goal came after the puck fell on his stick after hitting Stamkos in the rear end. Another deflected off the skate of a Devils defenseman as he passed cross-slot to Marty St. Louis.
"I'll take the bounces, don't get me wrong," Malone said. "It's just nothing to get too excited about."
First Period—1, TB, Malone 16 (Stamkos, Hedman), 19:16. Penalties—Hedman, TB (holding), 15:53.
Second Period—2, NJ, Zubrus 17 (Elias), 3:07 (sh). 3, TB, Malone 17 (Brewer), 4:40. 4, NJ, Josefson 2 (Carter, Clarkson), 6:54. 5, TB, Malone 18 (Hedman), 10:13. 6, NJ, Kovalchuk 33 (Henrique, Parise), 13:26. 7, NJ, Zidlicky 2 (Kovalchuk, Elias), 14:37 (pp). Penalties—Greene, NJ (delay of game), 2:15; Lee, TB (holding stick), 14:31.
Third Period—8, NJ, Ponikarovsky 13 (Salvador), 2:25. 9, NJ, Clarkson 29 (Ponikarovsky, Henrique), 6:05. 10, TB, Smith 2 (Wallace, Aulie), 19:51. Penalties—Clarkson, NJ (high-sticking), 9:33; Malone, TB (hooking), 10:21; Brewer, TB (holding), 11:40; Zidlicky, NJ (hooking), 12:34. Shots on Goal—TB 9-5-6—20. NJ 8-18-12—38. Power-play opportunities—TB 0 of 2; NJ 1 of 4. Goalies—TB, Roloson 11-16-2 (34 shots-28 saves), Caron (6:05 third, 4-4). NJ, Brodeur 28-21-4 (20-16).