TAMPA — The Lightning saw gradual improvement in their game over the course of their four-game homestand, but ending their week-long stretch at Amalie Arena on the short end of a 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Sunday night left them feeling unsatisfied.
There were a lot of positives. Take away a pair of third-period breakaways that Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped, and Tampa Bay didn’t give up much in its own end. The Lightning were fast into the offensive zone and able to sustain their attack with resilient puck pursuit. They outshot the Jets 35-22 and had a 34-16 edge in scoring chances.
They played well throughout the homestand, but after Sunday’s one-goal loss, they had to settle for five out of eight possible points.
“Are we a better team now than we were before Game 1 of this (homestand)?” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “No question. Is it disappointing to only get five of eight points? It is. We definitely thought we should have gotten points from this game, but we didn’t. And we felt like we should have had two (Thursday against) Vegas. So we’ve let a couple slide off the table, and that’s going to happen. Teams are going to take points from you.”
How close were the Lightning to breaking through? They rang shots off the iron six times, including Victor Hedman’s shot off the post with 4 seconds remaining.
“We were just in a rut before, it seems like,” said Alex Killorn, whose first-period goal gave him his third 20-goal season in the past four. “Things are kind of turning, but you have to work your way out of it and (Sunday) I thought we played well. You’ve just got to keep doing that.”
But ultimately, the Lightning’s biggest missed opportunity was their inability to convert during a 5-on-3 power play down a goal in the second period.
Tampa Bay owned a two-man advantage for 63 seconds after Mark Scheifele knocked Anthony Cirelli out of the game with an illegal hit to the head and Kevin Stenlund tripped Nikita Kucherov as he picked up speed skating across the blue line.
The 5-on-3 is the ultimate momentum swing, and the Lightning failed to take advantage, despite six shot attempts and two off the stick of Brayden Point that clanged off the post. Point, the Lightning’s hottest player and leading goal-scorer (with 43), first rang a backhand shot off the upper left corner iron, then pinged a wrister from the high slot.
“You don’t score on a 5-on-3, you don’t win too many hockey games,” said Lightning forward Corey Perry, who had an open shot from the left circle on the 5-on-3 that was stopped by Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. “It wasn’t for a lack of effort, a lack of trying or a lack of opportunities. ”
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The Lightning fell behind 3-1 after Morgan Barron filled an open net on a second-chance shot after Winnipeg defenseman Brenden Dillon collided with Vasilevskiy in front of the net. The Lightning challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was confirmed after video review.
Tampa Bay answered quickly on Cirelli’s shorthanded goal 57 seconds after Barron scored, sprung on a breakaway by Brandon Hagel’s stretch pass through the neutral zone.
Minutes later, Hagel hit the post just before Scheifele’s left elbow hit Cirelli in the head, the first of several clanks off the post.
“It’s frustrating when that happens,” Perry said. “I thought we did a good job of taking (Hellebuyck’s) eyes away. He saw pucks, but the ones that hit the post I don’t think he saw any of those. It’s just one of those things that if it goes the other way, we’re talking about a different story.”
Vasilevskiy finished with 19 saves, including two huge ones in the third to keep it a one-goal game.
In stopping Kyle Connor on a breakaway, Vasilevskiy’s initial poke-check attempt failed, but he kicked out his right pad to cut off the post. Mason Appleton also was stopped by Vasilevskiy on a breakaway in the final four minutes.
“I think the tough part of our game was really the couple breakaways we gave up in the third; Vasy made the saves,” Cooper said. “But all in all, we missed an opportunity by not scoring on that 5-on-3, and their goalie made saves in the end. That was it.”
Cooper did not have an update on Cirelli after the game, saying it was too early to know whether he would
be able to make the trip to New Jersey for games against the Devils on Tuesday and Thursday.
The Lightning did get back captain Steven Stamkos, who hobbled off the ice in the first period of Saturday’s win over the Blackhawks with an apparent left leg injury and didn’t return. Sunday, Stamkos had two shots on goal, blocked two shots and was minus-1 in 17:49.
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