TAMPA — The decision to start Andrei Vasilevskiy over red-hot Ben Bishop in goal Thursday night will understandably be questioned and debated in Lightning land.
Bishop had won five straight. Vasilevskiy had won once in 2017.
But like several of Vasilevskiy's latest defeats, you can't blame him for a 3-2 buzzkill loss to the Flames in front of a subdued sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay, riding a season-long seven-game points streak, surprisingly was flat for a good portion of the game, mustering just 12 shots in the first two periods.
This one stings. The dreaded regulation loss cost the Lightning a chance to pull within four points of a playoff spot.
"I'm pinning this game on us," coach Jon Cooper said. "A lot of things why we had success in the last month, we didn't do tonight. It's an 82-game season; that's going to happen. But the problem is, we already used up our gimmes. We don't have any more. That's why this one is tough. This game was ripe for the taking."
Some would pin this loss on Cooper, who didn't ride two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Bishop, who has allowed six goals in his past five games. Cooper reiterated that he's sticking to the goalie plan the Lightning has used all year: sharing the net between the two. And with Bishop expected to start Monday against Atlantic Division rival Ottawa, Vasilevskiy would have been idle for two weeks if he hadn't played Thursday.
"We've done this all year," Cooper said. "This is not one of those situations where guys are going weeks without playing. We don't sit here and say, 'Well, 'Bish' was going to play every single game down the stretch.' The goals we've been giving up, we've been giving up as a team, not our goaltender."
The Lightning's problem, like it has been in a lot of Vasilevskiy's recent starts, was scoring; Tampa Bay has scored two or fewer goals in five of Vasilevskiy's past seven losses. It didn't help that Tampa Bay (27-25-8) was playing without one of its top playmakers, Jonathan Drouin, out with the flu.
But other than Vladislav Namestnikov's goal on a deflection six minutes in — his third goal in as many games — the Lightning played too much on the perimeter. "We stopped skating," center Brayden Point said. "Took our foot off the gas."
"We were too pretty," Namestnikov said.
Said Cooper: "It was an easy night for their goaltender."
The Flames, on the other hand, went to the dirty areas, scoring first on a deflection, then on a rebound near the crease. Still, this was a one-goal game until Calgary's Dougie Hamilton scored a power-play goal with three minutes to go in the game.
Nikita Kucherov's goal with the extra attacker ensured the Triplets line wouldn't get shut out after racking up eight points Tuesday in a 4-1 win against the Oilers.
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"I don't think we came prepared to play the way we should have played," wing Alex Killorn said. "We've got a huge game coming up that's really going to determine whether we make the playoffs or not."
And you can bet that Monday, Bishop will be in net.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 9 (Coburn, Point), 6:17. Penalties—Hamilton, CGY, (tripping), 6:27; Dotchin, TB, (tripping), 10:30; Stralman, TB, (delay of game), 12:49.
Second Period—2, Calgary, Backlund 18 (Hamilton, Giordano), 5:04. 3, Calgary, Monahan 20 (Hamilton, Gaudreau), 6:25. Penalties—Hedman, TB, (holding), 11:18; Bouma, CGY, Major (fighting), 14:14; Dotchin, TB, Major (fighting), 14:14.
Third Period—4, Calgary, Hamilton 10 (Backlund, Frolik), 17:02 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 23 (Filppula, Hedman), 18:47 (pp). Penalties—Stone, CGY, (tripping), 0:34; Killorn, TB, (tripping), 15:45; Stajan, CGY, (tripping), 18:03. Shots on Goal—Calgary 8-10-7—25. Tampa Bay 5-7-13—25. Power-play opportunities—Calgary 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Calgary, Elliott 14-13-3 (25 shots-23 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 11-13-5 (25-22).