TAMPA — This Lightning team has talked a lot recently about finding its identity. And a familiar script played out in an embarrassing 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks on Thursday night at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning held the lead twice early, then allowed a wave of three goals in four minutes at the end of the first period, forcing them to chase the game.
We’ve seen the turnovers, we’ve seen the blown leads, but seeing such little pushback from the Lightning with two periods to play was new.
“We didn’t really push that much in a game that we were down,” center Anthony Cirelli said. “So that’s on us, that’s on the players. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be focused and ready for the next game.”
The Lightning deserved more out of the first period. They outchanced Chicago 19-4 but went into the first intermission down 4-2. They opened the scoring and carried a 2-1 lead into the final 3:17 before it all broke down.
With the score tied at 2, a pair of costly Lightning neutral-zone turnovers led to odd-man rushes that ended in Blackhawks goals.
Chicago applied pressure at the red line and forced defenseman Calvin de Haan into one turnover that led to Blackhawks wunderkind Connor Bedard setting up a Tyler Johnson goal on a 2-on-0. Then, after stripping forward Nikita Kucherov in the neutral zone, Bedard scored his second goal of the night as Cirelli stumbled into goaltender Jonas Johansson rushing back on a backcheck, allowing the puck to slide over the goal line.
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Bedard said of stripping Kucherov. “Some of the guys on the bench were talking about it. He’s someone I love watching. It’s fun to play against a guy like him. I guess it’s cool.”
The Lightning gave Bedard credit — the 18-year-old, this year’s first overall draft pick, became the third-youngest player to record a four-point game (two goals, two assists) — but knew they played a big role in his success.
“He’s a good player, and don’t get me wrong,” defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. “But we just gave it to them. It was totally on us.”
On most nights, the Lightning embrace a deficit. They would go into the locker room and tell each other there’s plenty of time to rally, and on most nights, they’d make it a game. This is the team that made “process over outcome” its mantra, a team that believed it could come back from anything.
But that jolt never came Thursday.
“It’s just the pushback,” Cirelli said. “We’ve got to go out there that next shift, just have a good next shift, build on that, every line just go in there and have a good O-zone shift and just play hard. Obviously (Thursday), we let that one slip away.”
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What should have given the Lightning hope was their past success against goaltender Petr Mrazek, who was 3-12-3 with a 3.30 goals-against average and an .881 save percentage against them for his career entering the night. But they never really challenged Mrazek down the stretch. The Lightning had 20 shot attempts blocked, including six by Sergachev, and 14 missed attempts, including four by Steven Stamkos and three by Brayden Point.
The Lightning had just five shots on goal in 13 minutes of 5-on-5 play in the second period. They had their best opportunity to get back into the game when they went on a power play 43 seconds into the third, especially given how good they have been on the man advantage (ranked third in the NHL going into Thursday). But a Stamkos one-timer was blocked, and another went into the side of the net. Kucherov couldn’t find Point in front, and the Blackhawks intercepted a pass he tried to thread cross-ice for Stamkos.
After that, the Lightning went 11 minutes, 7 seconds without a shot on goal. And even when coach Jon Cooper pulled Johansson with 5:33 left in the game, the extra attacker provided little spark. When Stamkos’ 6-on-5 goal with 2:10 left made it 5-3, it was too little, too late.
“We had the momentum in this game, clearly, the first 12 minutes, whatever it was, and we gave the momentum back with our self-inflicted errors, plain and simple,” Cooper said. “Just egregious turnovers and lack of execution, and in the end, we just gave them freebies.
“This is a tough league to win in if you’re just going to continue to do that. If there was one disappointing part of the game, it was our lack of pushback in the last few periods. That was tough.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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