"We need to find ways to win games. Right now, we're kind of finding ways to lose them."
The above quote by defenseman Ryan McDonagh sums up Tampa Bay's frustration currently.
While everything went right for the Lightning last season during a 62-win regular season, the Bolts haven't gotten any of those breaks this season.
The same was true in Tampa Bay's 5-4 loss to Minnesota Thursday night at AMALIE Arena.
Minnesota scored three goals in a 1:41 stretch of the first period to take control. The Lightning battled back to tie only to go down by a goal :37 seconds later.
Alex Killorn returned to the lineup after a two-game absence due to a lower-body injury and leveled the score again 4-4 four minutes into the third period.
This time it only took Minnesota eight seconds to respond and go back in front.
The Lightning have dropped four of their last five games. The Bolts had played better of late but hadn't gotten the results.
Thursday was not one of those nights where the end result wasn't justified.
"That's what makes this disappointing because we'd made some progress and today was a step back," head coach Jon Cooper said.
Here's how the Minnesota game got away from the Lightning.
Video: Cernak on Bolts chasing the lead
1. THE NEXT SHIFT
Cooper said he preaches to his team how important the shift following a goal can be. Before the players go out to take the ensuing face-off, Cooper said he goes eye-to-eye with the players to let them know it's the biggest shift of the game.
For whatever reason, that message wasn't received against Minnesota.
The Lightning battled valiantly to get back in the game and level the score after giving up three goals in a 1:41 span of the first period to go down 3-1. Anthony Cirelli thought he'd tied the game late in the second period when he drove the net while getting hooked and deposited the puck over the goal line as well as himself and Minnesota goalie Alex Stalock in a pile-up inside the goal. After initially signaling a good goal, the officials convened and overturned the original call, saying Cirelli interfered with Stalock, preventing him from making a play on the puck.
The Lightning still got a power play out of the sequence, however, and a minute into the man-advantage, Victor Hedman rifled a shot from the high slot that hit the back of the net to tie the score 3-3, this time the goal standing, for his 100th career NHL goal, the Swede becoming the first defenseman in Tampa Bay history to reach the milestone.
Just :36 seconds after the Lightning got the contest back on even terms, Minnesota went back in front, the rebound from Kevin Fiala's shot bouncing off Erik Cernak's skate and stopping at the side of the net for Victor Rask to push over the goal line.
"It feels like we do everything right," Hedman said. "It just bounces off Cerny, who's behind the goal line there and it just sits there."
The Bolts continued to battle though. Killorn lost a puck as he entered the zone, fought through the check of Matt Dumba to retrieve the puck and made a strong move to goal to beat Stalock and even the score again.
Minnesota needed just eight seconds to regain the lead, the Wild winning the ensuing face-off and creating a partial break that Mats Zuccarello converted for what would prove to be the game-winner.
The emotional swing proved too much for the Lightning to overcome.
"One's within :38 seconds off a blown D-zone coverage and the other one should never happen, that's unacceptable," Cooper said of Minnesota's response goals. "It's losing focus going out there after you've worked so hard to get the tying goal. Goals, after I guess that little spree in the first period, were hard to come by, but you can't give those up."
Video: Hedman on Bolts needing better starts
2. THE 101-SECOND SPURT
Tampa Bay started Thursday's game strongly, Erik Cernak finishing off a rush on the Bolts' first shot of the game 1:52 into the contest for an early 1-0 Lightning lead.
A 101-second stretch midway through the first, however, quickly erased whatever positive start the Lightning got off to.
Joel Eriksson Ek one-timed Jordan Greenway's centering feed from behind the net to tie the game 1-1 at 9:33 of the first. The Wild would take their first lead 1:13 later, a tic-tac-toe passing sequence leaving the Lightning chasing the puck and Jason Zucker tapping in a goal on the back post to make it 2-1. Before the Bolts had recovered from going down in the game for the first time, Minnesota extended its lead to 3-1, Carson Soucy throwing a puck on net from the right point that took a deflection off a Lightning stick and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy at the far post.
Suddenly, the Bolts were staring at a 3-1 deficit when two minutes earlier they were leading.
"We've got to have better starts," Hedman said. "That's twice in a row at home we give up three goals in one period. It's not good enough and it's tough to play from behind. We tie the game twice and give up a goal right away after. It's stuff we need to clean up. Bottom line is, we've got to get back to work tomorrow. We do some good stuff in the games too, but we've still got to play good defensively and it's about how many we give up and not how many we score."
In back-to-back home losses to Carolina and now Minnesota, the Lightning have been blitzed by the opposition for three goals in a short span. Those momentary lapses that lead to multiple goals have absolutely killed the Bolts.
Video: McDonagh on Bolts defensive performance
3. UNACCEPTABLE DEFENSIVE EFFORT
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper didn't mince words about his team's defensive effort following the 5-4 loss to Minnesota.
"One too many goals? We're giving up three too many goals," Cooper responded when asked why his team is getting scored on so often this season. "The pride we're taking in our D zone is unacceptable right now. We throw some good games together of late here where we've played pretty well, but you're giving up goals like this in this league, you've got no chance. No chance. You're going to come into a game and say, 'Hey, you're going to score four goals tonight,' pretty well thinking we're going to win the game, not a game we're going to get zero points out of. There's going to have to be a little bit of urgency here about defending and not trying to score your way to wins, because you're not going to make it playing that way."
Tampa Bay had defended better of late, even in dropping three-straight games last week to St. Louis, Washington and Carolina. The Lightning kept the number of Grade-A chances against to a minimum and showed progress defending better as a group, the final result of each contest not reflecting that effort.
Against Minnesota, though, the Lightning took a step back. Their defensive zone coverage was abysmal in the 1:41 spurt that led to Minnesota taking control of the game. And the Wild's go-ahead goal was a partial break that developed from the face-off where a pair of defensemen lost sight of Jason Zucker and allowed him to get in behind, something that should never happen.
"It's just mental lapses, and we got burned tonight," Cooper said.
The Lightning are allowing 3.31 goals per game, tied for the fifth most in the NHL, placing them squarely in the company of teams like Detroit, New Jersey and Los Angeles that are in rebuild mode.
If the Bolts want to make any kind of a playoff run, or even just make the playoffs, that goals against number is going to have to go down considerably.
"You've got to care about winning 2-1. That's okay," Cooper said. "And when you've got that mentality that you're going to keep the puck out of the net, usually when you're committed that way, good things will happen for you."