TAMPA — With a half-dozen games left in the regular season, the Lightning have their playoff spot secured and know the set of teams they’ll have to get through to return to the Stanley Cup Final. But they’re still searching for a full-game effort they can be proud of going into the postseason.
On Tuesday night, the Lightning had one of their best opening periods of the season, dominating the Red Wings on both sides of the ice, but went into the locker room with nothing to show for it.
Instead of sticking to what built that momentum, the Lightning got loose, and before they knew it they were chasing a game again, foiled by lapses that led to turnovers and odd-man rushes and breakaways that allowed Detroit back in.
The Lightning were adamant afterward that they beat themselves in the frustrating 4-3 loss. A defeat that overshadowed a record night from Steven Stamkos, who tied Marty St. Louis as the top scorer in franchise history with 953 points.
“It’s becoming a little bit too much of our story,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I thought after the first period, we had full control and we weren’t satisfied in sticking with it. ... If you want to go far in the playoffs, if you want to do anything, you have to play defense. You have to stick your ego aside and not worry about how many points you’re going to get or how much ice time you’re going to get. You have to worry about keeping the puck out of the net. Everything positive comes from that.”
“It’s perplexing why some of these players who have been with us for a while, especially being in Game 76 or whatever it was, are continuing to do this,” Cooper added.
The Lightning (46-22-8, 100 points) are clinging to third place in the Atlantic Division — ahead of Boston, which is currently in the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 wild-card spot — by just one point. Tampa Bay also fell eight points back of Toronto in the division — almost assuring the Lightning won’t have home ice in the first round — ahead of the teams’ meeting Thursday in Tampa.
A pair of turnovers by defenseman Mikhail Sergachev led to Detroit goals, including Jakub Vrana’s game-winner 5:09 into the third period.
The Lightning took a 1-0 lead on Ross Colton’s goal at the 3:58 mark in the second, but the Red Wings then scored three goals over a three-minute, 57-second span. The last goal in that stretch came after Detroit rookie Lucas Raymond took the puck in the neutral zone after Sergachev whiffed at it and beat Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole.
“We thought we were just going to go out there in the second and repeat it just by stepping on the ice and it doesn’t work that way,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Everyone in our room should be better prepared.”
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Cooper called a timeout after Raymond’s goal put Detroit up 3-1 at the 8:17 mark. Nikita Kucherov scored a minute and a half later to cut the lead to one. Just 43 seconds into the third, Stamkos set up Colton for the second time to tie the score.
Vasilevskiy, who was pulled in the second period of his last start after allowing two quick goals, yielded four goals on 31 shots, losing to Detroit for the first time in his career; he came into the night 13-0-0 against the Red Wings. The outcome would have been worse if Vasilevskiy hadn’t stopped Adam Erne on a breakaway in the second period.
With the score tied at 3, Sergachev — who was minus-3 on the night — tried to make a move on Vrana at the point, but lost the puck to him which left him chasing Vrana on a breakaway and watching as the Detroit forward beat Vasilevskiy stickside.
“It’s about being consistent and having everyone onboard,” said Stamkos, who had a three-point night. “When you don’t have everyone onboard, then it’s tough to play. When we have good stretches, you just roll the lines, you roll the D, you have trust in your system, you’re playing well, which we’ve seen in spurts.
“But we just haven’t put it together for a stretch here. So we’ve got whatever it is — five, six games left — to get some consistency.”
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