DENVER — Mistakes at critical times become magnified in a playoff push. And any points lost or given away in the final month of the season are costly.
Tampa Bay failed to hold on to a third-period lead and a pivotal turnover by Matt Carle late in Sunday night’s 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche let another game slip through the Lightning’s hands.
Carle’s attempted cross-ice pass landed on the stick of Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson at the right point. And then as Johnson made his way down the boards, Carle stepped in front of Johnson’s shot, screening goaltender Ben Bishop, and then deflecting the puck as it slipped past Bishop with 3:55 left in the game.
“I had time to make a play, I thought I saw (Ryan Malone) looking at me, so I decided to throw it there, but their D man picked it off,’’ Carle said. “Then I screen Bish a little bit, so if I’m going to stand there, I have to block that shot, and it kind of went off the inside of my leg.’’
The Lightning held a 3-2 lead entering the third period on the strength of a two-goal effort from Nate Thompson and Tom Pyatt’s second of the season. But Nick Holden scored on a power play early in the third to tie it, the Lightning failed to capitalized on a power-play chance with 3:06 left and the Avalanche went on to score two empty-net goals.
“That’s a tough one. It’s a tie game with under five (minutes) to go, thought we were going to get points out of this one and we let them slip out of our hands,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I thought we played well, but it’s two things: Special teams, we couldn’t kill the penalty off when we needed, we took too many penalties and then get the chance late and couldn’t score.
“But it’s still a 3-3 game late, and it’s tough to comment on that game-winning goal. It’s inexcusable, what happened.’’
Tampa Bay fell to 22-3 this season when leading after two periods and has just three wins in the past eight games to fall into third place in the Atlantic Division standings, five points ahead of the ninth-place teams in the Eastern Conference, Detroit and Washington.
“It’s just frustrating not to come away with anything, especially at this time of year,’’ Carle said. “We need to come away with something.’’
Bishop, starting on consecutive nights, finished with 29 saves.
Holden scored twice in the third period — one into an empty net — for Colorado, while Tyson Barrie, Paul Stastny (empty net) and Ryan O’Reilly also scored for the Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov finished with 31 saves.
After a fast pace to start the game, it wasn’t until late in the first period before Pyatt opened the scoring after he took a pass from Teddy Purcell and fired a wrist shot from the left circle over Varlamov at 16:49 for a 1-0 lead.
That didn’t last long, however, as on the next shift Barrie came off the bench and took a pass from Paul Stastny and was able to walk right down broadway unchecked, cut back into the crease and slipped a backhand under Bishop 28 seconds after Pyatt’s goal. Just over a minute later, Sami Salo’s errant pass attempt was knocked down and caught Tampa Bay scrambling to recover it its own zone. Eventually the puck popped out to O’Reilly between the circles for a quick wrist shot with 1:52 left in the period, giving Colorado a pair of goals in the span of 1:42 to take the lead.
After a slow start to the second period, Tampa Bay recovered and pulled even when Thompson came down the left wing side, cut to the net and caught Varlamov leaning as he put one short side at 6:40. In a near carbon-copy play, Thompson came down the left wing side again, but toward the net and put a shot on net that Varlamov saved, but Thompson continued through the crease and was able to swat his own rebound into the net to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead with 2:23 left in the second period.
After the Lightning killed off a late second period power play chance, Salo went off for hooking 3:31 into the third period. Holden eventually cut down the backdoor and tapped in an O’Reilly cross-crease feed to pull the Avalanche even at 5:12.
Tampa Bay’s penalty killers were called on again to kill off two more penalties - a hooking call on Victor Hedman at 7:29 and then an Alex Killorn delay of game call at 9:55 to keep the game tied.
The Lightning had a late power play chance to tie when Jan Hejda went off for tripping with 3:06 left but failed to convert.
“It’s been tough for us. We are going through a little bit of a rough patch right now,’’ Thompson said. “Sometimes it just seems it’s harder to win. We have a couple of breakdowns and they end up on the back of our net.’’
Avalanche 6, Lightning 3
Tampa Bay 1 2 0 — 3
Colorado 2 0 4 — 6
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Pyatt 2 (Purcell, Salo), 16:49. 2, Colorado, Barrie 8 (Stastny, MacKinnon), 17:19. 3, Colorado, O’Reilly 23 (Parenteau, Duchene), 19:01. Penalties—None.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Thompson 7 (Kostka, Carle), 6:40. 5, Tampa Bay, Thompson 8 (Kostka), 17:37. Penalties—Duchene, Col (hooking), 13:47; Namestnikov, TB (goaltender interference), 18:32.
Third Period—6, Colorado, Holden 5 (O’Reilly, Duchene), 5:12 (pp). 7, Colorado, E.Johnson 8, 16:05. 8, Colorado, Holden 6 (Talbot), 19:06 (en). 9, Colorado, Stastny 19 (MacKinnon, Landeskog), 19:53 (en). Penalties—Salo, TB (hooking), 3:31; Hedman, TB (hooking), 7:29; Killorn, TB (delay of game), 9:55; Hejda, Col (tripping), 16:54.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 13-10-11—34. Colorado 9-13-13—35. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Colorado 1 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 29-10-4 (33 shots-29 saves). Colorado, Varlamov 30-11-5 (34-31). A—15,592 (18,007). T—2:23. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Brad Meier. Linesmen—Brian Mach, Andy McElman.