TAMPA — After the Lightning’s uncharacteristically sloppy 6-4 loss to the Panthers, their second loss to Florida in the past three games, coach Jon Cooper wouldn’t cede that their cross-state rival did anything to get his team out of synch.
“They didn’t do anything, really, to us,” Cooper said. “It was all self-inflicted. I don’t feel like we were put in a tough spot. We did it to ourselves. Sometimes you get what you deserved, and we got what we deserved tonight.”
Though this one was much more high scoring — the teams combined for seven goals in the second period — the Lightning’s loss seemed eerily similar to Thursday’s 6-1 defeat in Sunrise to a revamped Panthers team that stretches the ice with speed and pressures the puck.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot here where we could have grabbed four points there, and we laid an egg in the second period there,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. “We were just two slow in the D-zone. I think, especially that team, that team presses hard. They come at you with all lines. But I think we shot ourselves in the foot tonight. That’s not that’s how we’re supposed to be playing and it showed.”
Cooper went through each of the Panthers’ first three goals, all byproducts of Tampa Bay turnovers: “Self-inflicted ... self-inflicted ... self-inflicted.”
With the Lightning (10-3-1) up 1-0, backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney tried to play the puck behind the net, but Patric Hornqvist beat him to it, then gifted a wide-open net for Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau 7:56 into the first.
Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta then lost the puck against the boards in the defensive zone, leading to a 2-on-1 that ended with Owen Tippett beating McElhinney 4:59 into the second. And the Panthers went up 3-1 less than four minutes later after Frank Vatrano converted on a penalty shot following a desperation tripping call on Luke Schenn after a Mikhail Sergachev turnover.
“Definitely a lot of odd-mans and breakaways, looks that we pride ourselves in not giving up, at least (not) that many in a game,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Credit them, they were connecting the dots a little bit, but we need to be a little bit quicker in our play and keep our gap all over the ice and make it hard on them like we did last game; we didn’t do that consistently enough tonight.”
The Lightning and Panthers have gotten to know each other well the past week, and Tampa Bay rebounded from a poor performance Thursday with a well-rounded win in Sunrise on Saturday. But the Lightning reverted to their old ways when the series moved to Amalie Arena.
Still, the Lightning scored four goals, including two from Alex Volkov on Tampa Bay’s fourth line. And Tyler Johnson’s third goal in the past two games, a score that came on a one-timer with 3:22 left in the second to make it a one-goal game at 5-4 entering the third.
“I thought the game was winnable the whole time,” Cooper said. “We scored four. You should give yourself a pretty good chance of getting points when you score four. So it just shows you our attention to detail on the other side of the puck wasn’t there.”
Former Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman gave the Panthers a two-goal cushion 59 seconds into the third, using Erik Cernak as a screen to block McElhinney’s view and put a wrister into the back of the net.
“I felt great going into the third period, and then to give up a goal in the first minute, it was inexcusable,” Cooper said. “It was our attention to detail with out puck management, and when we’re not managing it, when we’re reckless with it against teams with the skill set they have over there, they will burn you. You’re playing with fire.”
Monday’s game also marked the first game that the Lightning allowed fans back into Amalie Arena. The arena was still largely empty, but a limited capacity crowd of a few hundred “family and friends” watched from the lower bowl and the suites.
It’s the first step of the gradual soft opening that the Lightning hope will lead to re-opening the arena to about 3,800 fans by the middle of next month.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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