Florida's BB&T Center has been a difficult venue for the Tampa Bay Lightning to win in of late, the Bolts losing their last three visits to Sunrise.
Make it four losses in a row following Thursday's 2-1 overtime defeat to the Panthers.
The Florida game had a similar fate as the second game on the road trip in Anaheim, Tyler Johnson taking a penalty in overtime to give the opposition a 4-on-3 power play which they were able to convert almost immediately.
"When you get to overtime and take penalties, you're pretty much almost giving the game away," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "We've done that twice now, and it's hurt us."
After spending 12 days on the road, the Lightning get a chance to regroup with this weekend's All-Star Game festivities creating a four-day break in the schedule.
Thursday's game was a winnable affair for the Lightning, but they just couldn't make the necessary plays to come away from Sunrise with two points. We'll break down the game as well as other happenings away from the ice in 3 Things we learned from an overtime loss at Florida.
Video: FLA@TBL: Drouin sets up Kucherov for PPG to tie game
1. MAKE OR BREAK
After a superb performance two nights earlier in a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, the Lightning were looking to close out their road trip on a positive note against Florida.
The Bolts were also hoping to grab another two points to continue their rise out of the Eastern Conference cellar.
Tampa Bay hadn't won consecutive games since Dec. 20-22 when they downed Detroit and St. Louis at home. Prior to that, it was late November when the Lightning enjoyed back-to-back wins.
For a team trying to get back into the playoff race, stringing together a win streak is an absolute must. They were hoping to start one in Florida before heading to the All-Star Break.
Instead, they'll have to continue to search for the consistency that's been absent all season.
The Lightning played another solid game at Florida, their fifth good performance in six games on the road trip. They were responsible defensively. Their goaltender was on top of his game. They fired a number of shots at the Panthers goal. But, an inability to score goals, which has become an issue in recent losses, prevented the Bolts from earning two points against their cross-state rival.
"Obviously, we're extremely frustrated right now," Cooper said. "Let's be honest, that was a long road trip. It was so long we sat through two presidents. But for us to point, we pointed in four of the six games, it's just a little bit frustrating because you sit here and say, 'It could have been an unreal trip but it turns into a mediocre trip just because we got six points out of it.' Ultimately, we defended extremely well for most of the game. It's tough when you're only scoring one a game. Some of the Grade-A's we have, we're not finding a way to bury them. We've got to bear down and put these in the back of the net."
Coming into the road trip, the Lightning were focused on limiting defensive lapses. They got that aspect of their game under control in California. Now, an inability to score for long stretches has crept into their game.
It's been the story of the Lightning season so far: Whenever one problem is solved, another surfaces.
And the inconsistent play continues.
Video: TBL@FLA: Vasilevskiy rejects McKegg's chance in close
2. VASY CONTINUES TO SHINE
Thursday's game at Florida would typically have been reserved for Ben Bishop to get the start in net for the Bolts.
But after a strong performance in the previous game at Chicago by Andrei Vasilevskiy and a subpar outing by Bishop the game before that in Arizona, Cooper decided to stick with the hot hand and give Vasilevskiy another turn when the Lightning faced the Panthers.
The decision paid off for the Bolts.
Vasilevskiy was stellar again, stopping 30-plus shots for the second-straight game. He made several key saves early in the game to keep Florida off the board and quieted the Panthers offense once they netted their lone goal in regulation.
The two goals Vasilevskiy did let in were through no fault of his own. Florida's goal in regulation came on a Lightning power play when a breakdown by the Bolts led to a rush the other way for the Panthers, which they were able to convert in part because of some loose coverage by the Bolts' power-play unit. In overtime, Florida was awarded a power play on an interference call against Tyler Johnson after he lost the puck in the offensive zone and tried to slow down Jason Demers from reaching the loose puck.
Vasilevskiy appears to be returning to the form he displayed at the beginning of the season when he led the league for goals-against average and save percentage for a couple weeks.
It'll be interesting to see who Cooper tabs as the starter once the Bolts return from the break to take on Boston Tuesday night at AMALIE Arena.
Video: Cooper on OT loss to FLA and Nesterov trade
3. NESTEROV TRADED
During warmups in Florida, the Lightning made a trade, sending defenseman Nikita Nesterov to division rival Montreal in exchange for defenseman Jonathan Racine and a sixth round pick in this year's draft.
The timing of the move was a bit curious as Nesterov had played better of late. The 23-year-old Russian scored a goal in the Bolts' 5-2 victory in Chicago and had registered points in three of his last four games (goal, 2 assists).
But with a glut of defensemen on the roster like Luke Witkowski and now Jake Dotchin following callups from Syracuse, and Slater Koekkoek still waiting in Syracuse for another turn with the Bolts to show his improvement, Nesterov was simply a casualty of a numbers game.
"This is the business side of things," Cooper said. "You wish you could keep everybody. But these are moves, whether it's creating roster spots or losing guys to the expansion draft, protecting guys, there's just a long array of factors that go into why some players get moved. You're going to end up moving good players, and Nesty's a NHL player. But, Steve's a, there's a reason he's been GM of the year. He's got a plan, and that was one of the moves."
In return for Nesterov, the Lightning get a defense-first blueline prospect in Racine who has played one game in the NHL, that coming during the 2013-14 season while a member of the Florida Panthers, who selected the 23 year old in the third round of the 2011 draft. The Lightning also grabbed another pick in this year's draft, and Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman has shown a propensity during his tenure to stockpile picks and use them to build depth throughout the organization or to offer up as trade bait for future deals.