TAMPA — The Lightning took enough shots to win Saturday's game against the Devils. It scored enough goals to win, too. Problem was, the Lightning made enough mistakes to lose.
"There were a lot of positives," captain Steven Stamkos said, "but they scored on the chances that we gave them."
Final score: Devils 4, Lightning 3 in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
"Well, obviously, giving up four is not a recipe for success in this league," Stamkos said. "Even though we had a lot of opportunities, a lot of shots, three goals should be enough to win."
The Lightning (39-17-3) took a season-high 51 shots. It scored twice on the power play. Those are signs that should point, if not toward a victory, then at least overtime and one point.
Instead, the Lightning came away empty because it allowed too many odd-man rushes and a shorthanded goal, and committed enough mental lapses in its defensive zone to allow the Devils, who are fighting for a playoff spot, to leave with two points.
The loss coupled with a win by Vegas in Montreal dropped the Lighting (81 points) a point behind the Golden Knights for the most in the league.
"New Jersey did a good job," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I like a lot about their team, but in the end, we gave them the opportunity to win the game. That was it. Some teams can take advantage of it, and some can't, and they took advantage of it."
The Devils have returned to the rank of contenders by retooling from a heavy checking team to one that plays with the exuberance and daring of a young team. A trio of impact rookies can do that to a squad, and the Devils are getting just that from Nico Hischier (the first overall pick in last year's draft), Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt.
Hischier's goal in the second period came 26 seconds after Brayden Point scored to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead. That hurt, but not as much as the shorthanded goal by Pavel Zacha three minutes later that put the Devils up 3-2.
The Devils had just made a rush at Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning cleared the zone but turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Sami Vatanen found Zacha alone near center ice, and Zacha sped past Stamkos and beat Vasilevskiy 1-on-1.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit," the Lightning's Dan Girardi said.
The Devils took a 1-0 lead in the first period when Ben Lovejoy made the Lightning pay for a turnover in the defensive zone by firing a puck from the right side past Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Vasilevskiy.
"If we're not going to pay attention to our own net, give up odd-man rushes, it's tough for 'Vasy' to bail us out every night," Stamkos said.
Compounding matters for the Lightning was the play of Devils goalie Eddie Lack, who made 48 saves.
"Pretty sure that's the most (shots) I've faced in my NHL career, to be honest," Lack said. "I felt pretty comfortable in there at times. Honestly, I want two of those goals back. I didn't make it easy on myself, but the most important thing is to come out with the two points this time of year."
A goal by Stamkos, a one-timer off a feed from Hedman, made it 4-3 with nearly 15 minutes to play. But the Lightning couldn't get the one more it needed. Some of that had to do with Lack, who made his second start since his recall from AHL Binghamton.
"Their goaltender made some good saves," Stamkos said.
First Period—1, New Jersey, Lovejoy 2, 2:59. 2, Tampa Bay, Kunitz 9 (Callahan), 12:41. Penalties—Stamkos, TB, (hooking), 8:46; Coleman, NJ, (high sticking), 14:39.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Point 21 (Sergachev, Gourde), 2:47 (pp). 4, New Jersey, Hischier 12 (Vatanen, Hall), 3:13. 5, New Jersey, Zacha 5 (Vatanen, Lovejoy), 6:27 (sh). Penalties—Vatanen, NJ, (holding), 0:54; Wood, NJ, (boarding), 4:54; Sustr, TB, (roughing), 4:54; Wood, NJ, served by Hayes, (roughing), 4:54; Noesen, NJ, (high sticking), 8:33; Hedman, TB, (tripping), 14:00; Gourde, TB, (hooking), 16:26.
Third Period—6, New Jersey, Wood 16 (Noesen), 1:24. 7, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 24 (Hedman, Kucherov), 5:15 (pp). Penalties—Palmieri, NJ, (tripping), 5:03; Hall, NJ, (tripping), 11:56. Shots on Goal—New Jersey 9-12-7—28. Tampa Bay 16-17-18—51. Power-play opportunities—New Jersey 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 2 of 6. Goalies—New Jersey, Lack 1-3-0 (51 shots-48 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 34-11-2 (28-24). A—19,092 (19,092).