WINNIPEG — If the Lightning for an entire game could show the fight it did in the third period Thursday night, it would be tough to beat.
Tampa Bay lost 4-3 to the Jets at the MTS Centre, but three goals in the third — including two in 45 seconds in the game's final minute — cut a four-goal deficit. But rather than erase the ugly memory of the two first periods, in which the team was outhustled and outplayed, that made it worse.
It also overshadowed Steven Stamkos' three-point effort that gave him 73 points and tied him for the league lead with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.
"We weren't desperate enough," right wing Teddy Purcell said. "We showed in the third that when we stick to the system and play with that urgency, we're a pretty good team. But we came up short. It's disappointing."
The loss cost the Lightning (27-27-6) its three-game winning streak and time and ground in the playoff race. Tampa Bay still is 11th in the Eastern Conference but fell six points behind the Panthers for the final playoff spot and seven behind the first-place Jets in the Southeast Division.
"It wasn't pretty," coach Guy Boucher said. "We didn't start very well … and the first and second period we weren't good at all."
Especially in the second, when the Jets scored twice on the power play in 72 seconds to take a 4-0 lead 2:48 in and chased goalie Mathieu Garon, who allowed four goals on 18 shots.
The third-period comeback began with 9:00 left as Stamkos scored his league-best 43rd goal. With Dwayne Roloson, terrific in relief with 16 saves, out of the net for an extra skater, Purcell scored with 54 seconds remaining. And with a 6-on-4 power play, Marty St. Louis made it 4-3 with a wicked one-timer with 7.4 seconds to go. "It's easy to play when you're down 4-0. You have nothing to lose," St. Louis said. "We have to have that desperate attitude from the get-go."
Perhaps the emotions of the week finally caught up with the players. The Lightning lost three front-line players to trades in the past eight days, and captain Vinny Lecavalier is out of the lineup with a fractured right hand.
There also was this: 14 seconds into the first, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec righted himself to make a sprawling stop of Brendan Mikkelson's shot at an open net. Had the pucks gone in, the complexion of the game might have been different. "You score right off the bat, it gives you wings, it gives you confidence," Boucher said.
Mikkelson acknowledged "that goal could have made a difference," but "to come out like we did was disappointing. It's not good enough."
First Period—1, Winnipeg, Ladd 20 (Little, Wheeler), 7:11. 2, Winnipeg, Glass 5 (Thorburn, Flood), 14:59. Penalties—None.
Second Period—3, Winnipeg, Ladd 21 (Kane, Byfuglien), 1:36 (pp). 4, Winnipeg, Byfuglien 10 (Wheeler, Ladd), 2:48 (pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB (delay of game), :14; Malone, TB (interference), 2:39; Byfuglien, Wpg (roughing), 8:15; Hedman, TB (roughing), 13:49; Wheeler, Wpg (roughing), 13:49.
Third Period—5, TB, Stamkos 43 (Malone, Purcell), 11:00 (pp). 6, TB, Purcell 16 (Stamkos), 19:06. 7, TB, St. Louis 19 (Purcell, Stamkos), 19:51 (pp). Penalties—Wheeler, Wpg (cross-checking), :12; Stapleton, Wpg (tripping), 3:08; Kane, Wpg (slashing), 10:13; Gilroy, TB (tripping), 16:14; Malone, TB (roughing), 19:43; Glass, Wpg, served by Stapleton (roughing, cross-checking), 19:43. Shots on Goal—TB 9-6-10—25. Winnipeg 16-10-8—34. Power-play opportunities—TB 2 of 5; Winnipeg 2 of 3. Goalies—TB, Garon 19-16-4 (18 shots-14 saves), Roloson (17:12 second, 16-16). Winnipeg, Pavelec 23-20-7 (25-22).