ST. LOUIS — The Lightning need the ping of an alarm clock to wake them out of their doldrums.
Another wasted opportunity and lost lead led to 4-2 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday as Tampa Bay ended a four-game road trip with a thud, losing for the seventh time in the past 10 games.
First period goals by Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson went for naught as the Blues answered with three consecutive goals to rally for the victory. It marked the third time on the road trip Tampa Bay failed to produce a point when either leading or tied entering the third period. Patrick Berglund and T.J. Oshie, who scored shorthanded, rallied for the tie in the second and Alex Steen scored 3:47 into the third for the eventual game-winning goal. Vladimir Tarasenko scored into an empty net with 39 second left to seal the victory.
Tampa Bay remains five points ahead of ninth-place Detroit in the Eastern Conference standings despite the recent slide.
“As a coaching staff, we are the leaders of the team and we have to right the ship, that’s our job,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We put together a pretty darn good first three-quarters of the year, but since the new year we are basically a .500 team and that’s not going to be good enough if we want to make the playoffs.’’
Ben Bishop finished with 25 saves while Ryan Miller, making his home debut after being acquired from Buffalo, stopped 15 shots for the victory on the eve of the trade deadline.
“All road trip we’ve had great first periods, we probably should have won three out of the four games, so we have to fix this fast,’’ Bishop said. “We are going home, that’s good, and then the trade deadline is (Wednesday) then when that is over with we can regroup as a team.’’
Just as they had on the previous three games on the road trip, Tampa Bay jumped on the board first in the early going to take the lead. Teddy Purcell was the recipient of a gift turnover by Blues’ defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who put the puck right on the tape of Purcell in the right circle. Purcell quickly found Killorn in the slot for a quick wrist shot that squeezed past Miller at 7:08 for his 15th goal of the season.
After the Lightning killed off a dangerous looking St. Louis power play at 8:22, Tampa Bay went to work on the man advantage at 14:21. It didn’t take long for the Lightning power play, which had gone through a brutal 2-for-25 stretch in the previous 11 games, to take advantage of the opportunity. With Victor Hedman at the top of the point, he found St. Louis at the right circle for a quick pass into the slot where Johnson was able to collect the puck and swat it into the net at 14:49.
For the third time on the road trip, Tampa Bay carried a two-goal lead into the start of the second period, but some of the same second-period defensive woes that have caught up with the Lightning on the road trip crept up once again.
“I think a little bit of our structure has gone by the way side a little bit, and we are a pretty good defensive team, or I felt we were, giving up maybe two or three goals a game,’’ Cooper said. “Now we are starting to creep into the three or four goals per game. We are a better defensive team . . . and we are kind of just chasing the game a little bit and we have to straighten that out.’’
After Mark Barberio failed to get the puck out near the point in the defensive zone as Tarasenko kept the puck in and found Jaden Schwartz inside the right circle. Eric Brewer and Barberio both went to challenge Schwartz before he was able to get a shot attempt off. Bishop made the save, but with nobody in the crease area, Berglund was able to swoop in from the side unchecked, scoop up the loose puck before turning and firing a wrist shot that beat Bishop to the top of the far post to make it a 2-1 game at 3:32.
The Lightning had a golden chance to regain the two goal lead on another solid passing play as Johnson set up St. Louis at the right circle, but St. Louis pulled the puck wide of the open net to keep the Blues within a goal.
That miss would prove to be costly later in the period when Tampa Bay drew another power play chance was David Backes was called for slashing during an exchange with Hedman in front of the St. Louis bench.
But instead of grabbing momentum, the Lightning gave it away when Alex Steen took a puck up ice, raced into the Tampa Bay zone and faked a slap shot before dropping a pass to Oshie, who then stickhandled past Hedman then spun St. Louis around before lifting a backhand to the inside post, for a shorthanded goal to tie the game at 17:04.
Early in the third, Steen was lost in the coverage out front and took a pass from Backes behind the net, put the puck onto his backhand and beat Bishop 3:47 into the third period, marking the second time on the trip the Lightning blew a two-goal lead and the third time falling behind when tied or ahead heading into the third period.
“We can’t relax, we need to win games, that is the bottom line,’’ Hedman said. “Usually we are pretty good playing with the lead, but I don’t know what the problem has been on this road trip, specifically. We need to clean it up.’’