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Lightning lose third in a row for the first time this season

Tampa Bay loses Steven Stamkos and falls to Toronto in their return to Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) looks on as the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate their goal to go up 3-2 during second period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

TAMPA — Vegas. Arizona. Toronto. The Lightning have lost three regulation games in a row for the first time in almost two years.

Coming off two road losses, including one in which they gave up a season-high seven goals, all signs pointed to a big response from the Lightning. Instead, they were flat returning to Amalie Arena on Tuesday night.

“We weren’t really involved,” center Yanni Gourde said after the 4-3 loss to Toronto. “The energy feels a little bit low. We need to bring that energy, like we did in the third period.”

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The Lightning mounted a comeback effort in the third as Gourde scored to bring them within one, but it wasn’t enough.

To make matters worse, they lost Steven Stamkos again. He left the game after the second period. Coach Jon Cooper said the undisclosed issue that was bothering Stamkos previously came up again. The team’s captain missed three games two weeks ago.

Cooper pointed to one statistical anomaly that told the story Tuesday. Going down the stat sheet, most of the Lightning’s players finished with positive plus-minus ratings and most of the Leafs negative.

That’s how you know it was a special teams game. (Power-play goals don’t count toward the stat, which is one of its many issues). Tampa Bay failed to score on its three power plays. It gave up two to Toronto on four chances.

“Their penalty kill probably had more chances than our power play, and their power play scored,” Cooper said.

The Lightning had a couple of great chances on the penalty kill, going back-to-back with two-on-one chances in the final minute of the second period. But they also gave up two goals.

Of those four team penalties, Kevin Shattenkirk was responsible for three, including two on one play. He called that unacceptable.

Not long ago, the Lightning were getting away with those mistakes. Their penalty kill was nearly perfect for months. But they haven’t had a perfect kill in the past five games, giving up two power-play goals in three of them.

Gourde didn’t have an answer for that. He said they’re executing the same system, a system they believe in.

“I think it’s the little things that get the puck in our net,” he said. “If we limit those, we can be better. We have to execute again, play in (the system) and be consistent.”

Cooper figures getting scored on a few times opens opponents’ eyes. Though he said special teams made the difference in the game, Cooper seemed loath to put the blame on the kill. He said they won many games because of the penalty kill and “this is going to happen when you play 82.”

His comment about the Leafs’ kill getting more chances than the Lightning’s power play refers to the longer-suffering unit.

The power play hasn’t been an advantage since the calendar turned to 2020, though issues popped up before that as well (like going 0-for-7 in the Dec. 14 loss to Washington).

“We missed the net a lot,” Cooper said. “We had those two (power plays) early in the second, and we just kept missing the net. If we get those on net, who knows what happens after that.”

On their power play to start the third, the Lightning fell back into an old habit of overpassing. A few too many passes turned into a turnover and a shorthanded chance for Toronto.

All of it added up to another loss. They hadn’t dropped three straight in regulation since March 2018.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.