SAN JOSE, Calif. — Tampa Bay left home a week ago for four-game trip to the West coast sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Three games later, any California dreaming the Lightning may have had has turned into a nightmare following Thursday's 5-1 loss to San Jose in front of an announced crowd of 17,562 at SAP Center.
Tampa Bay has lost a season-high three consecutive games and have been outscored 16-6 in losses at Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose to fall to second in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning finish up the four-game trip Friday in Anaheim.
“Six points have been on the table and we have yet to find one so to me that's a rough trip,'' Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Anders Lindback, making his first start since Nov. 11, did everything he could to keep the Sharks at bay early in the game before the floodgates opened, finishing with 31 saves. Tyler Johnson had the only goal for the Lightning.
Tommy Wingels scored twice for San Jose, Patrick Marleau had a goal and three points and Logan Couture had three assists. Brent Burns and Brad Stuart also scored for the Sharks while Antti Niemi made 36 saves.
“We just have to be a little bit better defensively,'' Johnson said. “We are just giving up too many goals. It doesn't matter how many you score when you're giving up for five goals a night, you are not going to win too many games.''
Despite the lopsided result, the game was easily Tampa Bay's best of the road trip to this point. There were times on Thursday when the Lightning had the better of the play, created scoring chances and had more puck possession. After more of a lackluster effort in the previous two games, the showing against San Jose was a move back to the way the team wants to play.
“The last two games against Phoenix and LA we were there but not really there,'' defenseman Victor Hedman said. “Work ethic and dedication everything was there tonight. It doesn't look like that on the scoreboard when you lose 5-1 but I think it was a step in the right direction.''
Added Cooper: “I think if we can bring that effort that we brought tonight, and I know people to sit there and think well they lost 5-1what kind of an effort was that, but we did a lot of good things . . . you have to have games like this to work yourself out of it and if we continue to play like we did tonight, moving forward we're going to come out of this.''
The game started familiarly for the Lightning, struggling to assert themselves and getting hemmed in their own end for extended periods of time. And just like the previous two games on the road trip, Tampa Bay fell behind early when Logan Couture won a battle along the wall and feed an open Wingels inside the left circle for a quick shot 3:39 into the game.
The Lightning then found their composure and started to look like the more dangerous team, keeping San Jose in its own end and creating scoring chances, including a 3-on-1 shorthanded opportunity for Tyler Johnson. Then Tampa Bay went on the power play and spent the entire two minutes in the Sharks zone, getting three shots on goal and showing solid puck retrieval to create chances.
But San Jose took over the rest of the period from there, using their speed to keep the Lightning on their toes in the zone, with Lindback doing all he could to keep the puck out of the net, including a sliding pad save to rob Dan Boyle with 2:35 left in the period. But moments after that, with Tampa Bay collapsing down low, the puck went back to Stuart at the left point who sent a low slap shot through traffic to the inside post with 1:57 left for a 2-0 lead for San Jose.
“That second one can't go and we need to do a better job of blocking a shot and getting in the way,'' Cooper said. “That was right on the ice.''
The Lightning allowed 18 shots on goal in the first period, a season high allowed for a period.
Tampa Bay came out in the second looking more composed, controlling the puck and spending extended time in the Sharks' zone and outshooting San Jose 8-3 in the opening 10 minutes of the period. Still unable to capitalize on their chances to cut into the lead, Tampa Bay fell behind by three when Patrick Marleau picked up the puck behind the net, and just as Lindback went to cover the right post, Marleau found Wingels at the left post for an easy tap-in at 11:47.
“They are a good team, their forwards are big bodies, they cycle the puck well they create that space with so we just have to do a better job,'' Johnson said. “There are times when they took advantage of us a little bit and we just can't let that happen.''
The floodgates began to open up in the third period with two San Jose goals 19 seconds apart to pull away.
After Richard Panik inexplicably sent a puck from the wall across the top of his own crease, and though it didn't do any damage at the time, the puck came to Scott Hannan on the other side of the ice where he sent a shot-pass toward the net that deflected off the stick of Joe Thornton and then the skate of Brent Burns for a 4-0 lead at 4:23. On the next shift, Marleau got behind the Tampa Bay defense for a partial breakaway and after losing control of the puck briefly, he was able to collect it and backhand it past a sprawled out Lindback at 4:42.
The Lightning spoiled the shutout bid at 7:39 when Ondrej Palat found Johnson coming down the slot for a one-timer for his fifth goal of the season.
“We just have to move on to Anaheim and just turn the page and forget about tonight,'' Cooper said. “Let's go try and salvage two points.''