TAMPA — All of a sudden the Lightning needs to start looking down instead of up.
After Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the Blues at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the team is in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. And after its fifth loss in six games, it is tied with the Hurricanes at the bottom of the Southeast Division.
The Lightning (32-32-7) is technically ahead of Carolina because it has played one fewer game, but that is little consolation to a team that about two weeks ago was fighting for a playoff spot.
Now it's just playing for pride.
"We can't just put our heads down," wing Tom Pyatt said. "We have to keep fighting. That's the kind of character we have. We're going to fight to the end."
"It would be easy to fold the tent," right wing Teddy Purcell said. "But you really show who you are when you have some adversity and you have a real tough hill to climb. Hopefully, this will make us better in the end."
It is not as if the injury-depleted Lightning played that badly.
It limited the Blues — the league's No. 1 team and, with the win, the first to reach 100 points and clinch a playoff spot — to 21 shots.
Defenseman Brendan Mikkelson, playing as a forward because of an injury to Ryan Shannon, scored his first NHL goal in his 116th game, and goaltender Dwayne Roloson was steady enough with 18 saves.
Tampa Bay just could not convert its scoring chances, and against St. Louis, with the best goaltending in the league, that is not good enough, especially when behind 2-0 in the first period.
"You know if you start the game behind the eight ball, it's a tough hill to climb," coach Guy Boucher said.
Purcell and Steven Stamkos were stoned from the slot by goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who entered with a 1.87 goals-against average, second in the league to teammate Brian Elliott.
Two minutes after Stamkos was stopped, Patrik Berglund scored short-handed on a two-on-one, and Jaden Schwartz, 19, made it 2-0 with 35.5 seconds left with the first shot of his first NHL game.
Halak also stopped Brett Connolly's second-period breakaway to preserve the 3-0 advantage.
It's not going to get easier for Tampa Bay. With the playoffs a mathematical possibility but quite unlikely, it will be interesting to see how the players handle the dynamic.
"My message was never about the playoffs," Boucher said. "So the message doesn't change; it's 'get better every day.' "
"You just have to keep battling through," Purcell said, "and stay positive."
First Period—1, St. Louis, Berglund 17 (Pietrangelo, Oshie), 15:00 (sh). 2, St. Louis, Schwartz 1 (Stewart, Colaiacovo), 19:24 (pp). Penalties—Malone, TB (goaltender interference), :52; Nichol, StL (holding), 13:08; Hall, TB (high-sticking), 18:28.
Second Period—3, St. Louis, Perron 15 (Oshie), 2:47. Penalties—None.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Mikkelson 1 (Hall, Wallace), 15:49. Penalties—Langenbrunner, StL (hooking), 5:44; Colaiacovo, StL (high-sticking), 12:41. Shots on Goal—St. Louis 13-3-5—21. Tampa Bay 6-8-9—23. Power-play opportunities—St. Louis 1 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—St. Louis, Halak 25-10-6 (23 shots-22 saves). Tampa Bay, Roloson 8-14-2 (21-18). A—18,777 (19,204). T—2:19. Referees—Gord Dwyer, Brad Meier. Linesmen—Matt MacPherson, Anthony Sericolo.