COLUMBUS, Ohio — The series of unfortunate events that led to the Tampa Bay Lightning's 3-2 loss to Columbus on Monday night felt like something out of a fiction novel.
But the sequence of Victor Hedman breaking his stick on a shot attempt, followed moments later by Tyler Johnson taking a hooking call before B.J. Crombeen whiffed on an open clearing attempt on the penalty kill led to the reality of Mark Letestu tipping a Jack Johnson point shot for the decisive power-play goal with 2:38 left, handing Tampa Bay just its second loss in 19 games this season when leading after two periods.
“When you have the puck in the zone and are about to get a shot on goal, obviously it's frustrating that (the stick) breaks like that,'' Hedman said. “That's tough, it ends up costing us the game. That (stinks) when stuff like that happens.''
The Lightning lost for just the second time in the past nine road games while falling to 10-6-4 in one-goal games.
Anders Lindback, making his fourth consecutive start in goal in the absence of Ben Bishop, finished with 25 saves to take the loss and fall to 2-2 since Bishop was injured. Alex Killorn and Hedman scored for Tampa Bay, while Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 26 stops for the victory.
The Blue Jackets struck twice on the power play in the third period against the struggling Tampa Bay penalty kill to rally for the victory. Nathan Horton scored 3:09 into the period to tie game before Letestu won it late.
The two third-period power-play chances gave Columbus six opportunities in the game against a Lightning penalty kill that has allowed 11 power-play goals on 31 chances in the past eight games, a success rate of just 64.5 percent.
“This has been a tough stretch because usually with our PK when it goes down, it's just a one-gamer,'' Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It just seems like we are giving up a power-play goal to a team each game now and that's unacceptable. We are going to have to figure that out, change what we are doing or change the personnel.
“You can't sit here and say we are going to stake them one power-play goal per game. We can't be thinking like that. We have to kill those off, and this last one is at a big moment in the game, just three (minutes) to play and we need a kill and we didn't get it.''
Tampa Bay did not start off well, getting hemmed in its own end for a good portion of the opening 10 minutes as Lindback bailed his teammates out, stopping a Horton 2-on-1 chance 3:08 into the game and finishing the period with 10 saves as Tampa Bay killed off three power-play chances.
Columbus took the lead when Ryan Johansen's shot from the top of the center point zipped past a screened Lindback 3:46 into the second period.
Tampa Bay answered that with goals 57 seconds apart, Killorn tipping a Matt Carle shot for a power-play goal and Hedman pushing in a pass from Tyler Johnson as the trailer on the play coming down the slot.
But in the third, when the Lightning have been so strong for most of the season protecting leads — they held a plus-11 goal differential heading into the game — special teams proved to be the difference. Columbus capitalized on its two power-play chances while Tampa Bay's two opportunities with the man-advantage went to waste with the game still tied.
“Ultimately, way too many penalties and it turned into a special teams game,'' Cooper said. “Their special teams were better than ours.''
It's the second time in the past three games Tampa Bay has given up a goal in the final three minutes of regulation to lose a game.
“It's a disappointing way to lose a hockey game any way you draw it up,'' Carle said. “We had the lead going into the third period and our penalty kill had been good the whole game, and to give up two in the third and to not come away with even a point.
“It just seems like we've said that a handful of times this year where we get into games late and then we are not managing the game. That's what it came down to.''