TORONTO — A night after an emotion filled playoff-type game with a depleted lineup against a team the Lightning are trying to chase down in the standings, Tampa Bay played down to a team at the bottom of the standings.
With a playoff berth already under their belt, Tampa Bay came out flat and looking lifeless at times on Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to Toronto, a team nearly 40 points behind in the standings.
Toronto scored twice in the opening 10 minutes of the game and forced the Lightning to play catch up the rest of the way, which Tampa Bay was unable to do despite a 41-shot night as James Reimer stopped 40 shots.
“We laid a lot on the table last night, and we have not had the greatest success in back-to-backs this year and we have a young team,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s all part of learning, so it shouldn’t matter that you come in to face a team that is struggling in the second half of the season, they are proud players and they are trying to win a hockey game. We tried to win the hockey game and we just didn’t have it tonight.’’
Tampa Bay failed to capitalize on the chance to move past idle Montreal and into first place in the Atlantic Division standings, instead remaining one point behind while the Canadiens hold a game in hand.
The Lightning did move one point closer to clinching home ice advantage in the first round after Detroit lost to Ottawa in a shootout, but clearly were not happy with how it all transpired on Tuesday night.
“It was an emotional game (Monday) for sure, it takes a lot out of you but we have to find a way, if we are not feeling it, especially early, to turn into kind of an ugly game,’’ center Brian Boyle said. “There are not many games left so we have to find a way to find that energy. We played some great hockey (Monday), some of our best of the year. We have to be consistent with it.’’
Not that Tampa Bay played a sloppy, ugly game, but the sense of urgency was not there and it was noticeable early on when both J.T. Brown passed on the chance to shoot at what looked to be an open net and Vladislav Namestnikov took the puck around the net instead of shooting from just outside the slot area early in the game.
“That first five or six minutes we were buzzing around a little bit, then I had a bad feeling . . . we were passing up those shots and I felt our mentality, we just didn’t have that same shoot-first, crash mentality,’’ Cooper said. “We needed to get the lead and we couldn’t do it.’’
The Leafs cashed in on their first power play chance when Joakim Lindstrom shot a puck from the right circle that was deflected by Nazem Kadri at 8:53. Then less than four minutes later David Booth fired a shot from the top of the right circle at 12:03 to put Toronto ahead 2-0.
“Today I felt not good, I didn’t feel the puck, I didn’t feel confident,’’ rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said. “I think that’s because I don’t have a lot of game time and one or two mistakes, we lose the game and that’s it. The first goal was a bad bounce from out there and the second one is my bad.’’
Ryan Callahan found a rebound off Ondrej Palat’s one-timer for a power play goal at 18:04 to cut the deficit in half, but after dominating the possession in the second period, Tampa Bay was unable to find the tying goal. Morgan Rielly would score a 4-on-4 goal 24 seconds into the third period and the Lightning could not get any closer.
“We didn’t play very well,’’ captain Steven Stamkos said. “Injuries, back-to-back, you can say what you want, but I still think we could have won that game if we play hard, the way we know how to win. We have to get back to that.’’