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Ben Bishop, as you would expect, found it disturbing when told how often the Lightning lately has played from behind.

But Tampa Bay's goaltender also said the trend could simply be part of the ebb and flow of a season, and joked he had the solution.

"I'll try to make sure they don't score the next time," he said of Tampa Bay's opponents.

The moment was good for a laugh, but the topic is serious for a team lurching toward the playoffs rather than fine tuning.

Consider that the Lightning has allowed the first goal in six of its past eight games. It also has been behind at some point in eight straight games.

Tampa Bay is 3-3-2 in that stretch and has lost three of its past four. In its past two games, it has been outscored in the first period a combined 5-0.

Cause for concern?

"Absolutely," defenseman Sami Salo said. "Everybody has to be concerned. You can't just flip a switch when the playoffs start and say we're going to play this way. It's not going to happen."

"We've got to find our mojo," coach Jon Cooper said. "I'm not emphasizing wins and losses. You can play extremely well and still lose a hockey game. It's how you're playing and how you're competing. That's what we have to get down to in our last four games."

Playing from behind is a game-changer, literally.

"It changes the way you play," Cooper said. "Now you have to press a little bit. It pulls you out of your structure sometimes. Veteran, disciplined teams hang in there and they'll trust themselves that they'll come back."

The young Lightning, however, entered Monday tied for 25th in the 30-team league with four victories when trailing after the first period. Five wins when trailing after the second were tied for 11th.

Consequences of playing from behind go beyond the obvious.

First, there is the physical effort required to play catch-up. Players take more chances. That opens them up for mistakes.

Playing from behind also plays with the mind.

"It's draining mentally," defenseman Matt Carle said. "When you have a lead, you play with confidence. It's much easier."

When the Stars in Saturday's 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay scored 40 seconds into the game off a defensive zone turnover by Teddy Purcell, players sagged.

"A huge downer for us," Carle said.

Especially because a fast start was a priority after Tampa Bay fell behind 2-0 in the first period of Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Flames.

The first goal in that game came when Bishop, behind his goal line, passed directly to Calgary's Mike Cammalleri, who scored into an empty net.

"What's hurting us a little bit is we literally feel like we're scoring on ourselves," Cooper said. "We have to do a better job of shrugging that stuff off. ... You give up a lead with 58 minutes left in the game, it shouldn't change the way you play."

But we are dealing with human nature, the same human nature that perhaps caused Tampa Bay to exhale after Tuesday's playoff-clinching win over the Canadiens.

Since then, the Lightning, which tonight faces Toronto at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, is 0-2-0 and outscored 9-3.

"I don't know if it's lack of preparation or being a little too lax," Bishop said, "but something has to change."

* * *


Lightning vs. Maple Leafs

When/where: 7:30; Tampa Bay Times Forum

TV/radio: Fox Sports Florida; 970-AM

Key stats: Lightning C Steven Stamkos has 13 goals, 25 points in 20 games against Toronto, his hometown team. ... The Maple Leafs have allowed a league-high 10 shorthanded goals on the road. The Lightning's eight shorthanded goals at home were, entering Monday, tied for the league's most. ... Toronto is on a 3-10-0 streak. ... Maple Leafs C Tyler Bozak has a league-best 21.7 shooting percentage (18 goals on 83 shots).