The Lightning might have played their best period of the year Tuesday and still didn't come close to victory.
Toronto handed Tampa Bay its worst loss on home ice this season, a 7-1 defeat in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204. The loss was the Lightning's second consecutive on home ice after winning six in a row. Overall, Tampa Bay has dropped four of its past five games to drop to 9-9-2 at the quarter-mark of the season.
Dwayne Roloson allowed six goals on 21 shots before being pulled in the third period. The veteran netminder has allowed 10 goals in his past two starts and four or more goals in a game eight times this season.
While inconsistent goaltending continues to be a concern, the play of the defense looks shaky at times and the power play isn't rescuing the team at key moments, a new issue popped up in the latest loss. After a strong first period in which Tampa Bay outshot the Maple Leafs 13-4 through 15 minutes, the wheels started to fall off the wagon. And by the end of the game, all four tires looked to be rolling down a 90-degree slope in the final two periods.
That trend is a stark contrast to earlier games in which Tampa Bay made strong pushes when falling behind. On Tuesday, that type of push never developed and the Lightning looked like a team that sagged.
"I felt that whenever we made those mistakes defensively that cost us, it felt heavier than usual,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "And I certainly didn't like the push that we didn't have because we always have a push. It doesn't matter if we have three goals or five goals, we always make a push to come back and make it tight. So that was a disappointing part for me.
"To lose the game is one thing. Things turn out sometimes that you do a lot of good things and it doesn't turn out your way, but our attitude in the face of adversity was not good this time and usually it is.''
Tampa Bay gave up the first goal 41 seconds into the game as Clarke MacArthur deflected a Jake Gardiner point shot, but the Lightning made an immediate push back. Vinny Lecavalier scored on the power play with a one-timer to tie the score at 8:38 as Tampa Bay looked to be imposing its will on Toronto.
The results were numerous scoring chances, a strong forecheck, a pair of two-on-one opportunities and a couple of shots that hit posts. Then things turned the wrong direction when Victor Hedman fanned on a pass from Marty St. Louis with half the net open. Hedman wheeled around to try to recover the puck, only to lift his stick up on MacArthur, drawing blood and earning a four-minute penalty for high sticking. After the Leafs scored on the first half when Tim Connolly redirected a nice feed from Nikolai Kulimen, Pavel Kubina took an interference call to give Toronto 1 minute, 12 seconds of a five-on-three opportunity, which Tyler Bozak capitalized on to make it 3-1 with 37.1 seconds left in the period.
After that, Tampa Bay did not have the same look while managing only six shots on goal in the second period. Things really fell apart in the third, starting when Roloson banked a puck off the end boards right to Bozak for a rare three-on-three goal.
"We came out hard in the first, but when things didn't go our way we took some bad penalties and they took the momentum away from us and didn't play our game in the second and third period,'' defenseman Brett Clark said. "We let our fans down. They pay good dollars to come out and watch us and the effort in the second and third is not acceptable of the team and the group. We have to come out in the second and third and just battle hard and if things don't go our way, we still have to compete for the full 60 minutes.''