Tampa Bay dropped its second game in its last three contests, losses to the Leafs and at the Islanders sandwiched around a victory at Dallas on Tuesday. Against Toronto, the Lightning had plenty of opportunities to come out with a victory. But they failed to cash in on numerous scoring chances, and Frederik Andersen was doing his best Andrei Vasilevskiy impersonation to keep out the rest.
The Lightning fell in regulation for just the 10th time this season (through 48 games) and have one more chance to get back in the win column Saturday versus San Jose before they go on their bye week.
But before fast forwarding to the weekend, let's look back at how the Toronto game got away from the Bolts in Three Things we learned from a loss to the Leafs.
Video: Cooper | Postgame TOR 4, TBL 2
1. MIRROR OPPOSITE
Just like the Maple Leafs thought they got a raw deal the first time they played the Lightning this season, Toronto peppering Vasilevskiy with 49 shots but falling 4-1 after the Lightning goalie tied a franchise record with 48 saves on the night, Tampa Bay felt like it deserved a better fate against Toronto on Thursday.
The Lightning controlled play for large stretches of the game, namely the first five minutes of the contest and the last 25 minutes save for a three- to four-minute period midway through the third when Vasilevskiy had to make several key stops to keep the deficit at one.
Tampa Bay registered 16 shots in the third period. Steven Stamkos recorded a Lightning season high with 10 shots. Victor Hedman wasn't too far behind with eight.
But after Hedman's goal at 13:43 of the second period tied the game 2-2, Andersen closed the door on the Lightning, leaving the NHL's top-ranked scoring team frustrated at their inability to break through.
"Aside from a little spurt in the third period, I don't think we gave them a whole heck of a lot the whole game," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "We did a lot of good things. We broke down a few times and they ended up in the net. They probably said the last time they played us the same thing that a couple breakdowns end up in their net and they didn't score. The game was a lot more even this time, but we gave ourselves a chance to win."
Credit Andersen with the source of the Lightning's frustration. Several times they thought they had the Leafs goalie beat only to see him recover in time to make a last-second save.
Much like Vasilevskiy did about a month earlier against the Leafs.
"Goaltending wins. Both teams have it," Cooper said. "It's probably no surprise where both teams are in the standings with a couple of really good goaltenders."
Video: Brayden Point on the loss to the Leafs
2. EMPTY POWER PLAYS HAUNT BOLTS
The Lightning scored on their first power play to net the game's opening goal when Brayden Point collected the rebound on a blocked Victor Hedman shot from the point and sent the puck past Andersen about 10 minutes into the game.
But it's the missed opportunities on the power play that the Lightning will lament.
Trailing 3-2 late in the second period, the Bolts went on their third power play of the game after William Nylander was whistled for holding. The Lightning seized momentum of the contest at that moment and produced three outstanding scoring chances, but either the Bolts' shots missed the target or were staved off by Andersen.
Again in the third period, the Lightning had another chance to tie the game two minutes into the final frame when Zach Hyman was called for slashing.
More unreal chances for the Lightning ensued.
More blank looks from the Bolts followed too as they failed to light the back of the lamp when the tying goal seemed inevitable.
"It was tough to come out of the second period down a goal," Cooper said, referring to the Bolts' 3-2 deficit after 40 minutes. "I thought we had a strong period, and they came out with the lead. We pushed in the third for a bit, but then we wound up chasing it for about a five-minute period, gave them a little life, then got it back the last five minutes, had our chances 6-on-5, couldn't bury it."
The Lightning power play has ranked at the top of the league standings for nearly a month now and has produced in critical situations all season. But even though it succeeded in swinging the tide of the game back in favor of the Bolts, the power play's inability to push a puck through with so many open looks was a missed opportunity for Tampa Bay and one that ended up costing them the victory.
"The fact that one didn't go in was tough," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Their goaltender made some good saves. We had some good looks tonight. When we were on that streak, everything was going in. Now it's a little bit of the opposite. I'm happy with the chances we were creating out there, they just weren't going in."
Video: Steven Stamkos on the loss to Toronto
3. THE QUESTIONABLE EMPTY-NETTER
The Lightning had a final push over the final five minutes, one that kept the puck buried in the Leafs' end for much of the closing moments, especially when the Bolts pulled Vasilevskiy in favor of an extra attacker with about 2:30 remaining.
They continued hammering away at Andersen: Stamkos from the left circle, Hedman from the point, Kucherov from the right circle. Pucks were bouncing off players in front, missing wide or high, hitting the pads of Andersen, going everywhere but into the back of the net.
There was still time for the Lightning to break through, however.
That is, until a looping puck played up in the air by the Leafs from deep in their own end appeared to bounce off something at the top of the glass and came back down into play right at the feet of Zach Hyman behind everybody to easily deposit into the goal with Lightning skaters trailing the play with their hand up in the air, looking for a whistle
"I don't know what it hit, but that was a weird bounce," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "I haven't seen it. Especially on a flip like that, I've never seen a bounce like that. You've got to make that decision right away. (The officials) didn't see it that way, so we'll live with that."
The Bolts stopped skating thinking a whistle would blow the play dead once the puck seemed to change its course of trajectory on its way back down to the ice.
That whistle never came, and after some discussion, Hyman's goal counted, the final dagger in the Lightning.
"To be honest, I don't know what it hit," Stamkos said. "We thought it kind of went out of play, hit the glass behind and popped back in. Obviously, we all stopped playing. It took a funny bounce, so we figured it was out. It's a tough play to call. It's a bang-bang play for the officials. I heard someone say it hit the mic that was on the ice. I'm not sure why there's a mic in play to be honest. There was one on the glass, so I don't know why the heck that's there."