But the loss wasn’t without controversy.
Patrik Berglund’s game-winning goal with 2:19 remaining was initially ruled no goal on the ice as Berglund was deemed to have kicked the puck in the net. After review, however, it was determined that the puck deflected off Berglund’s skate and entered Tampa Bay’s net in a legal fashion.
The two-goal deficit proved to be too much for the Bolts to overcome. Nikita Kucherov scored his team-leading 23rd goal of the season with 52 seconds left and nearly had another a few moments later, but Tampa Bay’s comeback attempt fell short.
The Lightning have lost three of their last four and are dangerously close to falling out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. With 64 points, the Bolts are currently tied with the New York Islanders for the two wild card spots in the East but just one point in front of the ninth-place Pittsburgh Penguins and three ahead of 10th-place Carolina.
Was the ruling on Berglund’s goal correct or were the Blues the beneficiary of a dubious call? And why have the Bolts struggled of late after winning 10 of their previous 11?
We’ll examine that and more in today’s 3 Things.
1. THE KICKED-IN GOAL
St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund got the puck on a late breakaway after Lightning defenseman Matt Carle tried to reach up high in the air to keep Brian Elliott’s clear attempt in the offensive zone, but the puck deflected right into the path of Berglund heading back the other way.
For all intent in purposes, the game was going to be decided on the ensuing breakaway. If Bishop could make the save, the Lightning still had a chance. A second St. Louis goal, however, would be a dagger for the Bolts.
Turns out, both happened.
Berglund tried to go five-hole, but Bishop squeezed his leg pads together to make a great reaction save in a difficult spot. The rebound came right back out in front to Berglund, who used his skate to go between Bishop’s legs again, this time the puck finding a way through the opening.
Immediately, the official behind the goal signaled no goal.
“The ref on the ice saw it and was 10 feet away and was adamantly calling it a no goal,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I didn’t see any way it would be reversed.”
The goal went to a review, but video seemed to support the initial call on the ice. Berglund used the outside of his foot to contact the puck, and there appeared to be a kicking motion toward the Lightning goal.
Berglund would say after the game he was “putting on the brakes” when contacting the puck, implying that his skate didn’t hit the puck with a kicking motion but rather was part of his process of stopping, which is allowed.
The call was reversed, and the Blues had their late insurance goal.
Cooper was incredulous, as was the sellout crowd inside Amalie Arena.
“I thought there was zero chance of that being turned over,” Cooper said postgame. I don’t know how you look at that. The refs are trying to interpret the call, so that was their interpretation. My interpretation is that was as clear a kick as you can possibly see. You can kick a puck with the inside of your foot and the outside of your foot, and my interpretation is that was exactly what he did.”
One could see where maybe Berglund would get the benefit of the doubt on his stopping motion had that been the call on the ice.
But the fact the initial ruling that Berglund kicked the puck in the net was overturned and Toronto deemed there was enough video evidence to overturn it is a tough pill to swallow for the Lightning.
2. THE DIFFERENCE
Despite the controversial game-winning goal, St. Louis won Sunday night’s game because it was able to capitalize on the few opportunities it was presented and the Lightning weren’t.
“I thought we played on top of them,” Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn said. “We created some chances. It was a tight game. The difference was they got two breakaways, and we can’t let those happen.”
On St. Louis’ first goal, all five Lightning skaters, including defensemen Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov, were in the offensive zone trying to keep the puck bottled in deep. The Blues’ Robby Fabbri and Troy Brouwer were leaking out into the neutral zone, however, and when Paul Statsny was able to get the puck along the wall and push a clear past Nesterov at the blue line, it created a two-on-none that Fabbri was able to bury over the glove of Bishop, who had no chance.
“We can’t let those happen,” Coburn said. “Right away in the beginning of the second period, I think maybe they talked about trying to stretch us out a bit…You’ve got to be sharp for 60, and that turned out to be a pretty big goal for them beginning of the second period there.”
Berglund’s disputed game-winner also came from a breakaway that the Blues were able to convert.
“We gave up two full-ice breakaways,” Cooper said. “That’s a breakdown in our coverage. For most of the night, we did a pretty good job. We had a minor lapse in the second period there where we were a little loose and Tarasenko got loose once and Steen got loose once, but other than that, I didn’t think we gave them a whole lot.”
St. Louis had just 21 shots on the night. Tampa Bay finished with 38 shots, two away from matching a season high.
The Blues got the better quality looks thanks to the breakaways, however, and were able to make the Lightning pay for a couple of misplays.
3. THE POSITIVES
Despite the loss, the game wasn’t completely a wash for the Lightning.
The Bolts did manage to get 38 shots on goal and looked extremely dangerous on the power play but just weren’t able to break through against Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who always seems to have a good game against the Lightning no matter how he’s performing the rest of the season.
Tampa Bay limited St. Louis’ scoring chances to just a handful of good opportunities.
“I thought we executed fine,” Lightning alternate captain Ryan Callahan said. “We had a lot of chances, a lot of opportunity. It was more just burying our chances. Played pretty well defensively…I was pretty happy with our game. They get a bounce here or there, and they get one in the back of the net. But, overall, I thought we played a pretty solid game.”
Ben Bishop held an opponent to two goals or less for the 28th time in 41 starts.
Cooper switched up the lines in the third period in an attempt to generate more offense, and it worked, particularly late. The Triplets reemerged along with an extra attacker as Bishop emptied his net to create a goal with 52 seconds left, Nikita Kucherov lurking on the back door to push a rebound past Elliott.
That combination nearly produced again a few seconds later when a one-timer for Kucherov in front trickled inches wide.
Make no mistake, the Bolts played a solid game. They were unlucky to not get at least a point on Sunday.
“We’ve just got to keep at it, stay on top of it,” Coburn said. “I thought our execution was better tonight than it has been in the past, keep building on that because we have another good team coming in here in the Sharks (on Tuesday), just get ready for those guys.”