No way to sugar coat it, Tampa Bay's 5-3 defeat to Arizona was about as bad a loss as the Lightning have had all season.
In a game they absolutely had to win to keep pace in the race for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, the Bolts put together an uninspiring performance.
Holding a 3-2 lead going into the final period, Tampa Bay surrendered three-consecutive goals to fall by two to the Coyotes. The loss was the second of the year for the Lightning against Arizona. The Bolts lost by the same score exactly two months earlier in Arizona.
After stringing together points in 15 of its previous 17 games, the Bolts went 0-3-0 on a three-game home stand.
Tampa Bay will attempt to regroup when it begins a road back-to-back starting Thursday in Boston and concluding Friday in Detroit.
But it's hard to tell how the Lightning will recover from this one.
Ahead, 3 Things we learned from a disheartening defeat to the Coyotes.
Video: ARI@TBL: Vasilevskiy denies Duclair with great save
1. GOALS ALLOWED GOING UP
Prior to the just-concluded three-game home stand, the Lightning owned the top goals-against average in the league since February 3, sporting a league best 1.82 GAA.
But in three-straight losses, the Lightning gave up five goals in each.
A lack of focus on the defensive end proved to be the Bolts undoing again on Tuesday. The Lightning held a 3-2 lead after the second period but gave up wide open shots to Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Radim Vrbata on Arizona's game-tying and go-ahead goals.
"Ultimately, in the end, you have to keep the puck out of the net if you want to win," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "That's it. In our last two games, we've scored three. In the past, when we've made a commitment to play D, we've won those games. Regardless, we've gotten points out of those games, but to give up five, five, and five, all of a sudden defending hasn't become important. If you're not going to defend, you're not going to win."
In the six games prior to the three-game losing skid, the Lightning gave up eight goals combined.
The Bolts finished those six games with a 5-0-1 record.
A recommitment to the defensive end will, hopefully, produce more wins with 10 games to go in the regular season.
"It's back to the drawing board," Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Remember, there's still a lot of games left. We're obviously disappointed with the result tonight, but we can't lay down. We can't fold. We've just got to refocus."
Video: ARI@TBL: Hedman hustles to net breakaway chance
2. ANOTHER BAD LOSS
The Lightning have strung together some quality wins in March, defeating, at the time, the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild 4-1 at home and going on the road to beat the New York Rangers 3-2 and Ottawa Senators 2-1 in back-to-back victories.
But, the Lightning have also had a number of head-scratching losses this season.
Add one more with the Arizona defeat.
The Lightning were swept this season by the Coyotes, the next-to-last team points-wise in the NHL, losing both times by a 5-3 count. The Bolts also dropped two games to Vancouver and were shut out 4-0 early in the season by Colorado, the league's worst team by a wide margin.
For a squad that fancies itself a playoff contender, dropping five of six games to the bottom of the NHL is not getting it done. If the Lightning do miss the playoffs, they will undoubtedly point to those five games as lost opportunities.
"There's been a lot of frustrating games this year," Cooper said. "This ranks up there though just with how important the game is to us. That 3-2 lead at home going into the third in a must-win for us, to give it up like we did, it's frustrating to say the least."
Video: ARI@TBL: Kucherov buries a one-timer from tough angle
3. SUB-PAR EFFORT
The most puzzling aspect from Tuesday's loss was the lack of urgency the Lightning displayed.
For a team fighting for its playoff life and hoping to end a two-game losing skid that had suddenly thrown its postseason hopes into question, the Lightning didn't respond with the effort required.
In his post-game press conference, Cooper pointed to one telling stat that was a microcosm for the game.
"They had 25 blocked shots. We had six," Cooper said. "That just shows you the mentality of what went on tonight."
Arizona was a team out of playoff contention and, really, had nothing to gain from Tuesday's contest. But they displayed a greater desire to win than the Lightning, which was reflected in the amount of shots they sold out to block.
"Blocking shots, you've got to be fearless to do that," Cooper said. "It's getting in lanes and it's doing those type of things that help you win games. Six blocked shots, that's an extremely low number. That's not how it is every night for us, but we needed it to be higher than that.
"As I said, were their shots just getting through? They had 30-plus shots, but they didn't have much more attempts. I think they only had 45 attempts during the game. That's a really good number, so you look at that and say, 'Okay, we only gave that team 45 attempts.' But, ultimately, we didn't block enough and too many shots at the net. That was it."