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‘Unacceptable:’ Lightning loss to Minnesota Wild riles Jon Cooper

Tampa Bay gives up five goals, leaving the coach to slam its defensive effort.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) look on as the Minnesota Wild celebrate their goal scored by right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) to go up 5 to 4 during third period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in Tampa. The Wild scored the goal just 8 seconds after Lightning Alex Killorn (17) scored a goal to tie the score 4-4. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) look on as the Minnesota Wild celebrate their goal scored by right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) to go up 5 to 4 during third period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in Tampa. The Wild scored the goal just 8 seconds after Lightning Alex Killorn (17) scored a goal to tie the score 4-4. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 6, 2019
Updated Dec. 6, 2019

TAMPA — The Lightning once again gave up one too many goals and ended up on the wrong side of a one-goal game.

Well, they gave up one too many goals according to the final differential — a 5-4 loss to the Wild on Thursday at Amalie Arena — but coach Jon Cooper took it a step further.

“One too many goals? We’re giving up three too many goals,” he said. “The pride we’re taking in our D-zone is unacceptable.”

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Victor Hedman scored his 100th goal, on the anniversary of his first

Turning in a defensive dud after a few good games — even if they didn’t all end up as wins — when Cooper believed the Lightning had made steps defensively made this game even more disappointing.

“If you’re giving up goals like this, in this league, you have no chance,” he said. “No chance.”

Even worse than the number of goals the Lightning gave up was the timing of the goals. Twice the Lightning gave up goals on the shift after they had tied the score. Cooper called any shift after a goal the biggest shift of the game.

Victor Hedman scored a power-play goal in the final minutes of the second period to tie it at 3, only for Victor Rask to put the Wild back on top 38 seconds later. In the third, Alex Killorn, in his first game back from a lower-body injury, scored off a turnover he created to tie it at 4. Mats Zuccarello scored the winning goal eight second later.

“That’s unacceptable,” Cooper said. “It’s losing focus. Going out there after you’ve worked so hard to get the tying goal … Goals, after that spree in the first period, were hard to come by. You can’t give that up.”

Cooper was talking about a span of 1:41 in the first in which the Wild scored three goals, tying their team record for fastest three goals. Joel Eriksson Ek, Jason Zucker and Carson Soucy poured them on to make it 3-1.

The first came off two rebounds, the latter from Jordan Greenway, who then assisted on the goal with a pass from behind the net. Then Zucker and Eric Staal put on a passing clinic of the sort you might expect to see Nikita Kucherov involved in. Finally, Soucy scored from the point.

“We have to have better starts,” Hedman said. “That’s twice in a row at home we gave up three goals in one period. It’s not good enough.”

The Lightning’s No. 1 defenseman also echoed what his coach has said since the preseason: It’s about how many goals the Lightning give up, not how many they score.

Last season the Lightning outscored their problems in many games. They might have given up a lead like they did Thursday (Erik Cernak scored before that three-goal spree) and then had to push late to come up with one more. That style caught up with them in the playoffs.

This year they’re trying to establish a different kind of game. No one wants the Lightning to stop scoring, but they need to focus more on the defensive side of things.

Cooper wants his team to care about winning low-scoring games. The mentality of keeping the puck out of the net will lead to more scoring in the long run. A strong defensive game means more possession, which means more goals. But that builds out from the defensive zone rather than starting with the goals.

“There needs to be a little bit of urgency here about defending and not trying to score your way to wins,” Cooper said. “Because you’re just not going to make it playing that way.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

Wild 3-1-1—5

Lightning 2-1-1—4

First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Cernak 2 (Point, Vasilevskiy), 1:52. 2, Minnesota, Eriksson Ek 2 (Suter, Greenway), 9:33. 3, Minnesota, Zucker 11 (Staal, Zuccarello), 10:46. 4, Minnesota, Soucy 3 (Zuccarello, Brodin), 11:14. 5, Tampa Bay, Sergachev 4 (Paquette, Shattenkirk), 15:57. Penalties—Killorn, TB, (tripping), 3:27 Eriksson Ek, MIN, (hooking), 19:25.

Second Period—6, Tampa Bay, Hedman 6 (Kucherov), 18:47 (pp). 7, Minnesota, Rask 3 (Fiala, Soucy), 19:23. Penalties—Schenn, TB, (high sticking), 9:36 Seeler, MIN, (interference), 13:31 Hartman, MIN, (hooking), 17:48.

Third Period—8, Tampa Bay, Killorn 7 (Cernak), 4:00. 9, Minnesota, Zuccarello 6 (Brodin, Zucker), 4:08. Penalties—Fiala, MIN, (slash), 5:33 Kucherov, TB, (slash), 5:33 Eriksson Ek, MIN, (holding stick), 10:14.

SOG—Minn 9-5-7_21. Tampa Bay 13-8-13_34. PP opps—Minn 0 of 2 Tampa Bay 1 of 4. Goalies—Minn, Stalock 8-3-2 (34 shots-30 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 10-8-1 (21-16). A—19,092 (19,092).

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