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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a loss to Toronto

Bryan Burns on losing the special teams battle, a costly second period and the comeback coming up short

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL / TampaBayLightning.com

The Tampa Bay Lightning have lost three in a row in regulation for the first time this season after dropping a 4-3 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night at AMALIE Arena.

A losing streak is never ideal, however, it might not be the worst thing for this Bolts team either, especially at this point in the season.

Consider the Lightning are firmly entrenched in a playoff spot presently, occupying second place in the Atlantic Division. It would take a small miracle for the Bolts to get passed up by two teams in the Atlantic, whether it be Toronto, Florida, Buffalo or Montreal, and knocked out of the postseason.

Perhaps now is as good a time as any to grab the team's attention, to show how making unnecessary plays can quickly accumulate and lead to losses and how those losses can pile up if bad habits aren't corrected.

Remember, last season this team didn't face any adversity down the stretch of the regular season as they chased the NHL's record for wins. Although they weren't necessarily playing smart hockey, they were still getting rewarded with victories and points.

When those rewards didn't come in the postseason against Columbus, they folded.

Better to face some adversity now than in the playoffs.

Injuries haven't helped either. The Bolts suffered another Tuesday when Steven Stamkos didn't come out for the start of the third period and didn't play the remainder of the game. Whenever it seems the Lightning are close to getting their full lineup back, another setback happens.

Again, better now than in the playoffs.

Here's what stood out from Tuesday's loss to Toronto.

Video: Cooper on Bolts 4-3 loss to Leafs

1. LOSING SPECIAL TEAMS
The Lightning haven't controlled special teams in a game for some time. Back in January, the Bolts owned one of the most dangerous power plays in the NHL and were second in the League for penalty killing.

Now, both of those units are struggling and it's costing the Lightning games.

Toronto thoroughly outplayed the Lightning in the special teams portion of the contest, and that proved to be the determining factor in the 4-3 loss.

Toronto scored twice on its four power-play opportunities, including the game-winning goal on a nifty play at the edge of the crease by William Nylander after Kevin Shattenkirk had to sit in the box for four minutes following a double minor for high-sticking and slashing.

The Maple Leafs didn't need the full four minutes, Nylander scoring 50 seconds into the first minor to put the Leafs ahead 4-2.

"We kind of gave it back to them in the second, just in loose play and then I'm a prime example of it, that play I make in the second where I get my two penalties is unacceptable and obviously that goal counts as the game-winner," Shattenkirk said. "Those are things we can't have this time of year. That falls on me."

The Lightning, meanwhile, went 0-for-3 on their power play. They tried switching things up, bringing out the second unit first in hopes of providing a spark.

It didn't happen.

The power play gave up a few odd-man rushes against that Andrei Vasilevskiy was forced to keep out of his own net.
"We didn't play poorly 5-on-5. We didn't give them anything," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "It was a total special teams game…When you're looking at their odd-man rushes, they were coming off our power play. Their penalty kill probably out-chanced our power play and their power play scored. So, to me, that was the difference in the game."

The Lightning have given up a power-play goal in five-consecutive games and have allowed multiple power-play goals in three of those contests. The power play has scored just four goals in the last 21 games.

Those units will undoubtedly bounce back. They're too good not.

But right now, it's tough being on the bottom dip on the roller coaster that special teams can sometimes be during a regular season.

Video: Shattenkirk on Bolts third straight loss

2. SECOND PERIOD SWOON
Despite tying the game 2-2 at 11:54 of the second period, Pat Maroon scoring his eighth of the season to get the Lightning back on even terms after exiting the first with a 2-1 deficit, the Bolts lost the game in the middle frame.

Just 31 seconds after Maroon tied the game, while P.A. announcer Paul Porter was still announcing the scoring play, John Tavares backhanded a shot from the slot past Vasilevskiy for his second goal of the game to put the Maple Leafs back in front 3-2, a lead they would never relinquish.

The quick goal against after the Lightning tied the game victimized Tampa Bay in the loss at Vegas and was again an issue in Tuesday's defeat to Toronto.

It also stifled any momentum the Lightning had gained from Maroon's tying goal.

"We just blew the coverage," Cooper said. "It happens. A pretty good goal scorer had it in the slot. We didn't do it very often tonight 5-on-5, but that was one we blew the coverage and they scored on it."

A little over a minute later, Shattenkirk took his two simultaneous minor penalties and Toronto quickly scored again to take control of the game.

"We kind of gave it back to them in the second," Shattenkirk said.

Video: TOR@TBL: Gourde deflects puck in with body

3. TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Trailing 4-2, the Lightning played one of their best periods of the month in the third period.

They outshot the Leafs 14-3. They kept the puck in the offensive zone and were buzzing around Frederik Andersen's net throughout. On the other end, Vasilevskiy was barely called upon.

Yet the Bolts late push wasn't quite enough to force overtime and earn a least a point out of the game.

Yanni Gourde was able to cut the deficit to 4-3 at 7:27 of the third by charging hard to the net while Shattenkirk put a shot on frame from the right circle, Gourde bodying the rebound past Andersen to get the Bolts within a goal.

"We need to bring that energy like we did in the third period," Gourde said. "Everybody was going. Everybody played high tempo and we played really well. I think that was big in the third period for us is the way we brought that energy and we kept trying to make plays and we kept trying to go in their zone and bring pucks to the net. That's really what we do well."

The Lightning continued to push for the tying goal but couldn't find a way past Andersen a fourth time, Toronto sitting back and trying to absorb as much of the pressure as it could. The Lightning can take elements of their game from the third period and apply them going forward.

They just started to play well too late to pull out a result against the Maple Leafs.

"We responded in the third," Shattenkirk said. "I think the message going forward is when we play with that desperation and that urgency when we're down by two goals, we really didn't give them anything in that third period except for maybe one chance…Doesn't matter if we're up by two, the games tied or we're down by two, we have to play that way because it's not a reckless game, it's just good, fast hockey and we're a hard team to play against when we do it."

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