Trying to put together a late-season surge to get back into the playoff conversation, the Lightning instead turned the puck over numerous times Saturday night in dropping a 4-2 decision to the New York Islanders in front of an announced crowd of 16,170 at Nassau Coliseum.
New York swept the three-game season series from Tampa Bay, which has lost four consecutive games against the Islanders in New York.
Matt Martin scored the winning goal with 6:26 left in the third period — off an offensive-zone turnover — through a screen to break a tie game. The loss snapped Tampa Bay's point streak at four games and dropped the Lightning six points out of the Southeast Division lead heading into tonight's must-win game at Washington.
“I guess at this point of the season every loss hurts us a little bit more because if you are not picking up points, somebody else is,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But we have to turn the page.”
Tampa Bay certainly will want to turn the page on the number of turnovers committed as the stat sheet credited the Lightning with 14 giveaways, while the Islanders were credited with 17 takeaways.
“We played from behind the whole game … we just shot ourselves in the foot,'' Cooper said. “I think all three goals (not counting the empty-netter) were off turnovers by us in various areas of the ice.''
The play on the winning goal looked harmless at first, with Martin blocking a Radko Gudas attempt inside the New York zone. Tampa Bay had enough numbers back but Martin cut across the top of the zone and fired a wrist shot through traffic, which found its way past a surprised Ben Bishop.
“I never saw him shoot it. I never saw the puck,'' said Bishop, who finished with 24 saves. “It's frustrating. It was a lucky play.”
The Islanders also scored the first goal off a turnover as Nate Thompson, back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension, lost the puck just inside the defensive zone right on the stick of Michael Grabner. With space down the middle, Grabner was able to walk in unchecked and snap a wrist shot past Bishop at 14:45 of the period.
Richard Panik tied the score early in the second, taking a no-look, behind-the-back pass from Vinny Lecavalier behind the net for his second goal of the season.
But the Islanders regained the lead less than four minutes later after Kyle Okposo circled through the offensive zone starting from behind the net before flipping a puck to the front where Josh Bailey was able to get the puck past a sliding Bishop.
Matt Carle tied the score four minutes into the third, cutting down low to poke a rebound of a Steven Stamkos shot for his fourth of the season. But the tying goal failed to provide the life Tampa Bay needed as it finished with just two shots on goal the remainder of the period, none in the final 11:12.
“You have to give them credit, they played a good game and they played well defensively,'' forward Benoit Pouliot said. “The neutral zone was pretty tight and it's a tough trap to beat there, so we obviously need more shots. We have to get more pucks out there, but at times it didn't go our way and it doesn't go your way.''
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald scored into an empty net with 13.3 seconds left, firing a shot from inside the Islanders zone and potentially crippling Tampa Bay's chances at reaching the postseason.
“There are games left. We are going in to Washington, which is a division game and that's a big one,'' Cooper said.