In jumping out to a 15-2-2 record through the first 19 games of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have gotten off to fast starts in games, been opportunistic with the puck around the opponent's net and have played a sound, structured defensive game.
The Lightning accomplished none of those things in a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday at AMALIE Arena.
The Bolts gave up a goal 51 seconds into the game and found themselves trailing 4-0 early in the third period before they were finally able to muster a comeback. Back-to-back goals from Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat 13 seconds apart breathed life into AMALIE Arena, and Gourde cut the deficit to one with his second marker of the night with 3:36 to go.
The four-goal deficit proved too much to overcome, however, as the Lightning fell in regulation for just the third time this season.
In Three Things we learned from a loss to the Islanders, we'll examine why the Bolts found themselves so far behind in the first place and why they saw their season-long five game win streak come to an end.
Video: Gourde | Post-Game NYI 5 TBL 3
1. NO WAKE-UP CALL
The Lightning had to chase the game for nearly the duration when Andrew Ladd was able to send a shot top shelf to the far post from the left circle just 51 seconds into the contest.
Ten minutes later, Anders Lee made it 2-0 New York after converting a 2-on-1 break.
But even if the Lightning went into the first intermission tied 0-0, they still would have been unhappy with their start. They were routinely beaten to loose pucks by the Islanders. They looked flat-footed. The Islanders probably had more odd-man rushes in the first period than the Lightning had given up in the previous five games combined.
"Tonight was a little bit of a reality check for us there's no question," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "Not in the grand scheme of how the game was but how we came out. We were off. I think we thought it was a mid-week game and it was starting at 7:30."
The Lightning have stated recently they expect to receive every team's A game.
The Islanders certainly brought theirs on Saturday.
The Bolts weren't ready to match the Isles' play.
At least at the start of the game
"You've got to work and you've got to be responsible and we weren't responsible and all of a sudden 40 seconds we're down 1-0," Cooper said. "It was just a trickle-down effect. We were off."
Video: Palat | Postgame NYI 5, TBL 3
2. TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
After falling behind 4-0, the Lightning mounted a furious comeback, sparked by a pair of goals 13 second apart from Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat.
The Bolts controlled play throughout the third play. At times, they set up a shooting gallery at Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss' net. Unfortunately, Greiss made just enough stops, and the Bolts dug themselves to big a hole to climb all the way out of.
"Our third period was good," Lightning center Brayden Point said. "We had such a slow start in the first period it cost us later on. Obviously, we want to fix up that part, but, yeah, we tried hard in the third."
Leave it to this year's Lightning team to take a game shaping up as a blowout loss and force the opponent to fight tooth and nail to hold on at the end. If Tampa Bay can take anything out of Saturday's defeat, they can point to how quickly they were able to get back in the game, even down by four goals.
"Ultimately, you're down 4-0 and you've got 19 minutes to come back, if I'm going to take my chances on a team that can do it, it's the team I'm standing behind," Cooper said. "But, it was just, four is tough."
Video: Lightning Forward Point talks after Sat.'s game
3. KEEPING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Tampa Bay's performance on Saturday was disappointing for a number of reasons.
But a big reason why the loss to New York left a lot of fans perplexed is they've come to expect greatness each time the Lightning take the ice this season.
Falling behind 4-0 isn't expected with this team.
Shoot, just giving up four goals was an anomaly the way the Bolts had been playing of late.
"We weren't doing the things that we've done that made us have success," Cooper said.
When Gourde and Palat scored back-to-back to cut the deficit in half, every Lightning fan in the arena expected the Bolts to be able to, at worst, force overtime. That's how good this team has been over the first 20 games of the season.
Even down 4-0 with less than a period to go, there's still the expectation that the Lightning are going to find a way.
The breaks the Lightning had gotten early in the season, however, didn't fall their way on Saturday.
"The last 15 games the puck has went our way so I think it's normal it didn't go our way tonight," Palat said.
Ultimately, when the Lightning wake up Sunday morning, they'll still be in first place in the Atlantic Division. They'll still have the best record in the NHL. And they'll still be the team everybody points to as the standard to which all other teams aspire to reach.
Saturday's disappointment doesn't change any of that.