Yeah, it’s bad.
If you thought the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season was going down the tubes after Thursday night’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets, then Saturday night’s defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens should have erased any doubt in your mind.
The Canadiens (16-5-4) stormed back from a 3-1 deficit, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to claim a 4-3 victory. Lightning goalie Cedrick Desjardins, who made 25 of 29 saves in his first start of the season for Tampa Bay, allowed goals from Brian Gionta (8), Alexei Emelin (2) and Brendan Gallagher (7) in the third to secure the loss.
It was a heartbreaking collapse for the Bolts, who have now lost 14 of their last 18 games since winning six of their first seven games to start the season.
Goals from Steven Stamkos (19), Sami Salo (2) and Ryan Malone (5) sandwiched around a goal from Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec (11) bolstered the Tampa Bay lead at 3-1 entering the third.
However, a Victor Hedman tripping penalty to start the third began the free fall to equilibrium for Tampa Bay.
Gionta’s goal on a mad rush in front of the Tampa Bay net cut the lead to one before Emelin’s one-time goal tied the game with over half of the third period to play.
The Lightning (10-14-1) — who seem to always be in defense mode once they have a lead instead of attacking and playing aggressively — continued to crumble in the dying minutes, allowing Gallagher’s game-winner with just over eight to go after getting outworked behind their own net.
An empty-net attempt in the dying moments proved fruitless for Tampa Bay as the game concluded.
“Our guys were tentative and backing off a bit,” coach Guy Boucher told Bolts TV. “That’s the opposite of what we wanted. We wanted to push the pace.”
There was a players-only meeting in the Lightning locker room after the game, according to Boucher.
When you’ve reached the point where you have to hold a players-only meeting, you know something has gone terribly wrong. Even against the best team in the Eastern Conference, you shouldn’t blow a 3-1 lead in the third period.
“We’re not hungry to win; we’re scared to lose right now,” Stamkos said. “The first two or three minutes of the third period, instead of keeping the pressure on them we were dumping the pucks in to nobody, just giving the puck right back to them. The game is about puck possession, and we’re giving the puck right back to them. They get a power play, break out of their zone and score. [They’ve] got the momentum now and it’s a different game.
“When you’re in these situations, things creep into your head when you’re not winning games and you’re finding ways to lose. It’s natural. You have to find a way to not have that. We have the mentality of being hungry to win. A good team, a 3-1 lead at home, going into the third — that should be almost automatic. Right now, it’s clearly not.”
The Bolts now have two days off before a crucial Southeast Division game against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. on Tuesday night. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Montreal’s next game is also against the Panthers, theirs on a back-to-back Sunday night at 6 p.m. ET.
Keep in mind: With 23 games remaining, the Lightning are eight points (four wins) behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the division. And the way things are shaping up, only one team from the paltry Southeast may even make the playoffs.
Which will it be?