TAMPA — Normally poised under pressure, the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday looked more like a jittery bunch handing over pucks like party favors at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Tampa Bay’s unusual sloppy puck management gave the New York Rangers ample opportunities on the way to a 4-3 Lightning loss in front of an announced crowd of 19,204 at The Forum.
Henrik Lundqvist finished with 37 saves while Mats Zuccarello had a goal and two assists as the Rangers scored three times on three power-play chances: Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and former Lightning winger Benoit Pouliot, who had the eventual game-winner.
Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Valtteri Filppula scored for the Lightning, who suffered just their second regulation loss in the past 12 games (7-2-3) and just the fourth regulation loss on home ice this season. Anders Lindback made 25 saves in the loss.
But, oh those turnovers, as Tampa Bay was credited for eight giveaways while the Rangers registered nine takeaways.
“That was the old, work smarter not harder,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I think the guys worked hard, but we did not work very smart. That was painful to watch, to be honest. We’ve played 39 games so far and I don’t think I’ve seen us mismanage pucks more in 39 games than I did tonight.
“That was extremely disappointing to see the way we managed the puck in the first two periods and it ultimately cost us the game.’’
It started early when Radko Gudas sat with the puck on his stick inside his own zone, and as Tampa Bay was going through a line change, he tried a cross-ice pass that was intercepted by Derek Stepan, who skated in before feeding an open Nash at 4:30 of the opening period.
“I have to be better myself, for the team to help out as much as I can,’’ Gudas said. “It’s hard to have a turnover like this that costs a goal.’’
Tampa Bay was able to rally, getting a power-play goal from Johnson at 10:41 to tie the game and then Palat pounced on a rebound of a Gudas shot to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead at 16:05.
But Filppula took a penalty for playing the puck with his glove late in the period and New York capitalized when Zuccarello’s attempted cross-crease pass went off the skate of Gudas and past Lindback with 1:35 left. Then early in the second period, Tom Pyatt failed to get a puck out of the defensive zone.
That forced Dmitry Korobov to take a holding penalty, which led to Kreider’s power-play goal at 4:35 to give New York the lead for good.
“It just seems that since the (Christmas) break, we’ve lost our identity a little bit for 60 minutes,’’ captain Marty St. Louis said. “I don’t know if it’s the kind of pond hockey game we played a little bit in Florida (on Dec. 23), but it wasn’t pond hockey until Florida gave in a little and we earned that ice to play on.
“That’s something you have to do throughout a game, you can’t just go out there because it worked in one game. Teams are battling and when you turn the puck over like that it’s kind of pond-hockey attitude.’’
The Rangers carried a 4-2 lead into the third on Pouliot’s tap-in goal at 7:51 of the second, which came moments after another failed clear attempt.
Tampa Bay came out with a strong third period, peppering Lundqvist with 16 shots on goal, but only Filppula’s between-the-legs deflection of a Purcell pass at 8:14 eluded Lundqvist.
“This was not a lack of effort, it was a lack of execution,’’ Cooper said. “Our guys have proven that they can make plays better than they did tonight. ... You have to tip your hat to them a little bit, but I think we could have been much better.’’