The Tampa Bay Lightning saw their franchise-record 11-game win streak come to an end Thursday night, the Bolts dropping a 5-3 decision to the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
The Lightning also had a six-game road win streak and an eight-game road point streak fall by the wayside in Las Vegas.
The Bolts lost for the first time this season to a Pacific Division team, dropping to 10-1-0. Tampa Bay's 13-game win streak against Pacific teams dating to last season was also stopped.
Despite the loss, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper took time to reflect on his team's incredible run, the Bolts knocking off eight-straight teams holding a playoff spot entering the matchup in Las Vegas.
"Let's not forget, we just reeled off 11 in a row against a lot of really quality opponents," Cooper remarked. "Was our effort there? It was. Eventually somebody's going to beat us…We'll just live and learn here and move on to Arizona and make sure we clean up some of these mistakes."
Tampa Bay started well, scoring 7:02 into the contest when Kevin Shattenkirk wheeled around in the right circle and threw a puck on net that deflected into goal. Turnovers and poor puck management, however, was the Lightning's undoing, the Golden Knights scoring three-consecutive goals, including a pair in a 36-second span in the opening minute of the third period, to pull away.
Here's how Thursday's game in Las Vegas got away from the Bolts.
Video: Cooper | Postgame at VGK
1. VEGAS' QUICK RESPONSE
The Golden Knights started to take control of the game in the second period, the Lightning getting hemmed into their own zone for long stretches and unable to generate much of anything offensively.
With less than five minutes to go in the period, however, Steven Stamkos connected on the power play, his one-timer from the left circle tipped up and over Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game 2-2, giving the Lightning just their second power-play goal in the last 14 games.
Stamkos' power-play marker appeared to swing momentum back in favor of the Lightning.
Vegas quickly grabbed it back though, Mark Stone converting a 2-on-1 odd-man rush to put the Golden Knights back in front 3-2.
Vegas never trailed the rest of the game.
"We didn't manage the puck to a pretty good player," Cooper said. "That's the stuff we haven't been doing in the run we're on. That was tough."
Stone's goal was set up by a Lightning turnover that put Braydon Coburn in a difficult position trying to defend a 2-on-1 with one Vegas skater near the wall and Stone screaming down the middle with plenty of room to maneuver.
"Some of it is just being a little bit overzealous and us being a little too giddy to get on offense," Shattenkirk said about the Bolts' above average turnover margin against Vegas. "We just have to be a little more patient around the puck, support it a little more and that makes us look like a fast team when we're making those short support passes and breaking out together. It's important that we do that and just stop and slow down a little bit sometimes."
Video: Stamkos | Postgame at VGK
2. THE BACK BREAKER
Trailing by a goal entering the third period, the Lightning had plenty of time to get back in the game.
The first minute of the final frame dashed any of those hopes.
Vegas scored just 10 seconds into the third, Ryan Reaves shrugging off a challenge from Coburn and managing to fire off a shot from the right circle that beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Golden Knights a two-goal cushion.
Seconds later, Coburn took a penalty to break up a drive to the net, and just seven seconds into the man-advantage, Vegas connected again, Max Pacioretty sniping a shot past Vasilevskiy to give the Golden Knights an insurmountable 5-2 lead.
"The first minute of the third was a back breaker," Cooper said.
"Not the way we wanted to start the third," Stamkos added.
If there's a silver lining Lightning fans can take from the loss in Vegas, the team never quit despite trailing by three goals and seemingly everything going against them.
Stamkos tallied another power-play goal with two minutes remaining in regulation, and the Lightning pressured Vegas' net heavily down the stretch. The back-to-back goals given up early in the third period, however, sealed Tampa Bay's fate.
"We're going to bounce back as a team here," Stamkos said. "We had a great stretch. We played so much good hockey. All everyone's going to talk about is that we lost this game, but we put a great stretch of hockey together. We'll refocus, work on some things and play better next game."
Video: TBL@VGK: Stamkos hammers Kucherov's pass for PPG
3. ENCOURAGING POWER PLAY
The Lightning power play has been mired in a slump since January 9, the unit producing just two goals over an 18-game stretch entering Vegas.
Thursday saw the Bolts finally break through and net a couple on the power play to get back on track. Stamkos scored the first of his two power-play goals in the second period, his one-timer deflecting off a stick and beating Fleury. He netted a second power-play tally late with the Bolts scrambling to try and get back in the game with another blast from his office in the left circle.
The Lightning scored multiple power-play goals for the first time since January 7 against Vancouver. Stamkos recorded his 296th and 297th career power-play points and pulled into a tie with Vincent Lecavalier for second among Tampa Bay's power-play scoring leaders, just three points back of franchise leader Martin St. Louis.
"We've been talking about, power play sucks, we've won. Power play goes 2-for-4 or whatever and we lose," Stamkos said. "I'd rather have a (bad) power play and win hockey games than the other way. We have too much skill to go the way it was going. If anything, it gave us a little boost there and evened itself out."
The Lightning hadn't needed their power play on their 11-game win streak, their superior 5-on-5 play allowing them to overcome their struggles with the man-advantage. That bodes well for the Bolts in the postseason when penalties are harder to come by and you can't always count on your power play to bail you out.
The Lightning learned during this stretch they can still beat quality teams without having to rely on its power play.
But it's still nice when the unit can connect for you too.
"At this point, you want to take anything and roll with it," Shattenkirk said. "Even without the goals, (the power play) was better I think. We just had cleaner plays and created a lot of quality scoring chances and we were shooting pucks and it's important that we do that and kind of establish that and make our plays from there."