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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a second-straight loss

Bryan Burns on continuing to create scoring chances, a familiar skid and facing desperate opposition

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL /

The Tampa Bay Lightning cannot get out of their current funk.

The Lightning have lost five of their last seven games following a 4-2 defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.

The Bolts allowed Zac Dalpe to speed unencumbered through the middle of the ice and redirect a pass from Max Domi past Andrei Vasilevskiy 15 minutes into the first period for the game's first goal, and, from there, the Lightning were chasing the game.

They'd never really get back into it.

Columbus pulled ahead 2-0 early in the second period on Jack Roslovic's shot that beat Vasilevskiy at the near post. The Blue Jackets scored twice more in the third period to build a 4-0 lead before the Bolts finally got on the board when Ross Colton broke through for his fifth goal of the game with 5:23 to go.

Luke Schenn added his first goal of the season with 19 seconds left, but it was too little, too late for the Lightning, who have now lost two in a row and three straight on the road.

Here's what we learned from the continuation of the Lightning's skid.

Tampa Bay continues to find goals hard to come by at this stage of the season.

Following Tuesday's loss, the Lightning have now gone eight-consecutive games netting three goals or fewer, this from a team that was averaging 3.68 goals per game prior to that stretch.

The scoring drought isn't for lack of chances, however.

The Lightning had plenty in the Columbus loss. The Bolts put up 38 shots against the Blue Jackets, their fifth-highest total this season. They created plays off the rush. They had rebound opportunities. Shots from distance. Shots in close.

Nothing could penetrate Joonas Korpisalo's net until the outcome wasn't in question.

"This is where guys grip their stick a little tight or a little bit of frustration sets in," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Their goaltender played extremely well tonight. He made some big saves. It just feels like no matter what we're doing, we're just not getting that reward or that bounce. It certainly happens throughout the course of a season. It's happened to us before. It's happened to us as individuals before. We'll get through it. It's just sticking with the process. Sometimes it's hard. You want to cheat or you want to hope that plays are going to happen, but we've got to continue to work. I didn't think it was for a lack of chances tonight."

Stamkos said if the team wasn't getting chances, he'd be worried.

He's not because the opportunities to score have been there.

The Lightning just aren't burying the shots they were earlier in the season when they were scoring and winning with regularity.

Now, after a few games of adversity, it feels like the Lightning might never score or win again.

That's obviously not going to happen, but when these extended slumps persist, that can sometimes be the feeling among the fanbase.

It can permeate the locker room too.

"You overthink things. You try to force things. You get outside your game. You get upset and mad and angry," Tyler Johnson said. "When things are that way, results don't really follow. You have to try to do your best to get it out of your head, have some fun with the game, but it's very difficult when things aren't going your way."

It's hard to remember now since we know the end result was the Lightning lifting the Stanley Cup at season's end, but during the 2019-20 regular season, the Bolts suffered through a similar skid in the second half of the season that had people questioning their chances of going on a deep postseason run.

After pulling to within a couple points of NHL-leading Boston following win streaks of 10 games and then a franchise record 11 games last season, the Bolts lost seven of their last 10 contests before the NHL season was paused, including four defeats in a row fresh off the heels of that 11-game win streak.

The Lightning got a chance to regroup during the four-month layoff. They came back renewed for the restart and rolled through the postseason, never losing back-to-back games at any point en route to the franchise's second-ever Stanley Cup.

A similar scenario has befallen the Lightning this season too. Tampa Bay played so well over the first half of the season, stringing together a pair of six-game win streaks along with a five-game win streak, that it's given itself a bit of a cushion down the stretch. The Lightning can absorb losses currently and still not be in danger of missing the postseason.

The Bolts might not finish first in the division if this slump persists, but the only thing that matters at this point is getting into the dance.

All bets are off once the playoffs begin.

The Lightning are hoping they're better off once they come out of this skid for having gone through the experience, much like last year's team learned from its adversity.

"Teams go through adversity," Stamkos said. "Probably no one remembers how things were going before the pause last year. They weren't going great for us, and no one remembers that. No one's going to remember this if we can get out of it and go and play our game. It's the course of a season. Things are going to go well, and things aren't going to go well. It's the teams that can figure it out and stick together and stay positive. This group certainly has that makeup."

A lot of the teams the Lightning are facing currently are desperate for wins.

Columbus is certainly one of them. The Blue Jackets had lost seven of their last eight and were in serious jeopardy of falling out of the playoff chase in the Central Division unless they could start stringing together some victories and fast.

Four teams in the Central are fighting for one playoff spot with Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida distancing themselves from the rest of the pack atop the division. Chicago, Columbus, Dallas and Nashville are all playing desperate hockey currently, and that can be tough for a Lightning team that isn't as pressed for wins because of the strong start it got off to at the beginning of the season.

The Lightning are becoming a desperate team now, but more because they need to get out of this tailspin they're currently in, not because they're in danger of falling out of their playoff position.

"I don't think we can really use (other teams' desperation level) as an excuse because I think our team is desperate to score some goals and feel good about ourselves right now," Johnson said. "We've just got to play better hockey and start getting some wins. That's what we're really focusing on. Other teams are definitely playing well, but at the same time, we have to worry about ourselves and we've got to play a lot better hockey."

The Lightning might not want to use it as an excuse, but the reality is most of their opponents are playing desperate hockey to avoid getting shut out of the playoffs.

And it's tough for the Bolts to manufacture that same level of desperation when they're firmly in a playoff spot.

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