The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t deserve to be on the ice with the New York Rangers.
“We couldn’t make a pass, guys falling everywhere,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher told Sun Sports. “For two periods, there was no opposition for the other team.”
Thursday night’s 4-1 loss to the Rangers came with a stark realization for the National Hockey League’s leading goal scorer and the Lightning.
“We can’t wait around for guys to get going here,” center Steven Stamkos, whose 14 goals are one more than New York Islanders center John Tavares, told Sun Sports. “It’s 20 games into a season that’s 48 games.”
Tampa Bay (9-10-1), who has lost three straight, came out flat and lacking energy, falling into an early deficit like they have so many times this season.
“Obviously today was just not a step in the right direction,” defenseman Victor Hedman told Sun Sports. “They were in our zone almost the whole first period it felt like.”
The Rangers (9-8-2) may not have been in the Lightning zone the entire period, but the box score didn’t show it.
New York outshot Tampa Bay 20-3 in the first period, picking up goals from forward Carl Hagelin (7) and center Derek Stepan (4) to take a 2-1 lead.
Lightning defenders over-pursued, got caught staring at the puck, and played poorly all-around, only to be bailed out by goaltender Mathieu Garon more times than they deserved. But Garon is not the type of player to point fingers.
“We’ve got to play better than we did tonight if we want to get on a winning streak,” Garon told Sun Sports.
Garon kept Tampa Bay in the game, making 38 saves on 42 shots.
A late first-period goal by forward Martin St. Louis (4) was the only success the Lightning offense found the whole night. Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the New York defense shut down the Lightning for most of the game.
Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal added a goal (2) in the second and forward Rick Nash scored (4) in the third to set the final margin.
However, even the final score was not indicative of how poorly the Lightning played in the game. The performance is a low point for Tampa Bay in what has thus far been a streaky season.
Hedman, who doesn’t mince words, summed it up best to Sun Sports after the game.
“They deserved to win and we didn’t deserve anything,” he said.
The comfortable first-place position in the Southeast Division that the Lightning sat in just a month ago feels very far away now. The Carolina Hurricanes are surging, and the Winnipeg Jets have even pulled into a tie for second with the Bolts with 19 points.
If Tampa Bay doesn’t turn it around soon, they may find themselves in a dark and uncomfortable cellar.
And Boucher, who described his team as “not ready to play” to Sun Sports after the game, may find his job at risk for potentially missing the playoffs in two consecutive years.
The Bolts could learn from the Rangers, who have made the playoffs six of the past seven seasons. New York, who hosts the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday night, has rebounded from a slow start to get back in the playoff hunt.
The Lightning, meanwhile are trending down, and need to turn things around before — you know, what? I should stop talking.
“There’s enough talking going on,” Steven Stamkos told Sun Sports, “we need action.”