Coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning had a plan to beat the Stars on Thursday. This year, Tampa Bay has been pretty successful doing so, winning all four games against the team it beat in last year’s Stanley Cup final.
But in the Lightning’s 4-3 loss at Dallas, they were both sluggish and sloppy and, according to Cooper, they weren’t “mentally sharp.” — an uncharacteristic trait for a team that has pulled out wins even when not playing its best.
The Lightning had just four shots on goal in the first period. Then after taking a 2-0 lead, they let that slip away late in the second. And despite that, the Lightning managed to tie it at 3 with 4:50 left in the third.
But Roope Hintz threaded between two Tampa Bay defenders at the blue line and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy with 1:21 remaining for the winner.
“We weren’t mentally sharp right from the beginning,” Cooper said. “We’ve played these guys enough. We know how to beat them, and that’s what we’ve done for pretty much this year. We just weren’t mentally sharp. Four shots in the first period, and we had a ton of zone time, so usually that happens when you just mentally aren’t with it.”
Cooper and his players said they didn’t think fatigue — their seventh game in 11 days — or playing a man short were factors in the loss. What the Central Division-leading Lightning (24-7-2) do know is they will have to play better in their next game, Saturday, against a Carolina team three points behind in the standings.
“We know we’ve got (to play) way better,” said forward Ondrej Palat, whose putback goal late in the third tied it. “We just need to learn from our mistakes and regroup and get ready for Carolina. That’s going to be a huge game.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy, who allowed the most goals in a game since a Feb. 11 loss to Florida, saw his team-record 12-game winning streak end, along with the Lightning’s five-game winning streak.
Tampa Bay allowed two goals in the final 80 seconds of the second. With the Lightning up 2-1, Joe Pavelski tied it seven seconds into a power play, finding space just under the left circle and beating Vasilevskiy top shelf from point-blank range.
In the period’s final minute, Lightning forward Tyler Johnson poor decision to pass the puck through the middle rather than off the boards led to a turnover and a Dallas lead. When the scramble for the puck cleared, Pavelski fed Jason Robertson for a one-timer at the right circle that Vasilevskiy had little chance against.
“Just an egregious turnover in the last minute of the period,” Cooper said. “That can’t happen.”
The Stars (11-11-8) had 21 shots on goal in the second, and the Lightning were outshot 41-26 for the game. The Lightning did not have a power-play opportunity for the first time this season.
Tampa Bay played without top-four defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak due to injuries. And because their injuries are considered short term and not under consideration for injured reserve — along with the fact that the Lightning have no salary cap space — Tampa Bay had to play a man down in order to qualify for an emergency roster exemption to recall Luke Schenn and Andreas Borgman from the taxi squad and play over the cap.
The Lightning played with just 11 forwards, which meant extra shifts for some on the fourth line.
Yanni Gourde scored in his fifth straight game, putting in a rebound 2:46 into the second period. Alex Killorn put Tampa Bay up 2-0, putting in a rebound off Mikhail Sergachev’s shot on net from the point, 5:58 into the second.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.