The Lightning's funk struck five.
A 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday in front of an announced crowd of 9,486 at Nassau Coliseum has Tampa Bay mired in a five-game losing streak, its longest since Guy Boucher took over as head coach last season.
Mathieu Garon gave up all five goals on 34 shots, but he could hardly be faulted for slamming his stick across the crossbar when New York scored its fifth goal. That came after a missed poke check resulted in a 2-on-0 before Matt Moulson slipped a wrist shot past Garon for a power-play goal with 2:25 left in the game.
The five consecutive losses in regulation, during which the Lightning have been outscored 20-8, is also the longest stretch since March 14-20, 2010. The Islanders, 4-0-1 in their past five games, pulled within one point of Tampa Bay for 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
"We're pretty down,'' Lightning alternate captain Marty St. Louis said. "It's tough when you are in a spiral down like this.''
The spiral downward on Tuesday came quickly, too, even after St. Louis scored 6:55 into the game for his 800th career NHL point to give Tampa Bay the lead. After that, it was all downhill as the Islanders scored three times in the final six minutes of the first period, including one with 5.5 seconds left to take advantage of a downtrodden Lightning squad coming off a tough loss Monday night in Ottawa.
"We are a fragile team right now, and we were fine, up a goal and things were going good,'' St. Louis said. "Then they score, then we just collapsed and it was just a beating after that.''
The Islanders, the lowest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference coming in and averaging 2.2 goals per game, skated circles around Tampa Bay for good portions of the night. A streaking John Tavares came off the bench for an open shot to tie the game at 14:01, Matt Martin beat Matt Gilroy to the front of the net for a tap-in goal at 18:26 and a tic-tac-toe play was finished off by Milan Jurcina for a power-play goal with 5.5 seconds left in the first period.
"We have a lot of work to do in our defensive zone,'' defenseman Brett Clark said. "It killed us again tonight. We get the lead, we give up three quick goals and that turned the whole momentum. We kept battling to the end, but it wasn't enough.''
Unlike the previous four losses during the current streak, the Lightning didn't put forth a strong enough effort to have a chance Tuesday. Whether it was the early-morning arrival after leaving Ottawa and being diverted to a different airport due to fog, or just a hungrier Islanders team, Tampa Bay did not look like a team trying to turn its fortunes around.
"This one is a horrible one compared to the other ones,'' Boucher said. "The other games, we were playing great and deserved wins. This one was different and it's very simple, it was a back-to-back and when the guys get to bed at 4 in the morning, that's exactly what we look like.''
The trick is trying to get back to what the team needs to look like in order to stop the spiraling before it gets out of control.
"You scratch your head and you look for answers and recipes,'' St. Louis said. "But all you have to do is go play, play the game, play the score at time, play the clock at time. You don't just throw the sticks in the middle and go play. Our awareness hasn't been there at key times of the game.''