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Burns: Three things we learned from Toronto road trip finale

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay surrendered 10 goals combined in losses to the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Lightning have dropped two in a row for the second time in 2014-15. They'll try to avoid a season-long three game losing streak Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.

So, what did we learn following a second-straight 5-2 defeat? Here are a few points of emphasis from a tough night in Toronto.

1. Tampa Bay has been at its worst playing the last game of a road trip

The Lightning have completed three road trips so far in 2014-15. In the final game of those trips, the Bolts are a combined 0-2-1.

Tampa Bay capped a five-games-in-eight-days journey to Western Canada/Minnesota with its worst loss of the season, a 7-2 blowout at the hands of the Wild (Oct. 25).

The Lightning salvaged a point in Chicago before returning to Amalie Arena from a three-game Midwestern trip but ultimately fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Blackhawks.

And again on Thursday, the same theme repeated itself. Against a Toronto team that had given up 15 goals in consecutive defeats, the Lightning looked like a squad with one foot on the ice and the other firmly planted on a charter back to Tampa Bay.

The Lightning have been solid this season on the road, compiling a 6-4-1 record. However, each trip has ended on a down note, leaving a sour taste in the Bolts' mouths when they return to Tampa Bay.

2. When the Bolts' speed is neutralized, wins are hard to come by

The Lightning play a fast-paced, up-tempo brand of hockey. They have a number of talented forwards who are skilled at possessing the puck and flying by the opposition to create scoring chances.

But when the speed game isn't working, the Bolts struggle.

We saw this scenario play out against the Islanders when New York turned up the physicality in the rematch with the Bolts. The Islanders, reeling from a 5-2 loss to the Lightning three days earlier, switched up their game plan and punched the Bolts in the mouth from the opening puck drop.

The result? The Lightning could never get comfortable or find a rhythm offensively and fell 5-2.

It was more of the same on Thursday. The Leafs came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, trying to erase the memory of a 9-2 debacle against Nashville two days earlier.

The Lightning are used to putting teams on their heels from the start. When the roles are reversed, they have trouble recovering.

"We were in quicksand all night," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "When you're playing slow and you're not executing, we're in trouble and that's what happened (Thursday)."

Still, it's not time for Lightning fans to lose faith.

"In 82 games, you're probably going to have a couple games like this where things aren't really going your way," Cooper said.

3. Pulling your goalie with over five minutes to go is unconventional yet effective

Trailing by three goals and time quickly fading on a comeback, Cooper made the unorthodox move of pulling goaltender Ben Bishop and adding an extra attacker with 5:30 still to go in the final period.

The hope was the Lightning could steal a quick goal or two to get back into the game then reinsert Bishop to make a push over the final minutes.

The strategy nearly worked. With 4:13 remaining, Steven Stamkos broke free in the slot. His initial shot was stopped by Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier but his poke on the rebound found its way into goal.

Down 4-2, Bishop again skated off the ice with three and a half minutes to, and the Lightning had a number of great chances to close within a goal, Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Valtteri Filppula all with shots in tight that were turned away.

In the closing seconds, Toronto's Roman Polak sent the puck the length of the ice off a faceoff for a shorthanded goal, but at the point, the game was already over.

Some might question the decision to leave the net empty with so much time left on the clock, but it's a smart move. The Lightning needed goals badly, and it was clear scoring would be difficult skating 5-on-5.

If you give up a shorthanded goal with five minutes left, so what? The game's already nearly been decided at that point anyway. If you make a final, desperate push with five minutes left, you still have time to make up a three-goal deficit.

The more conventional method of waiting until about two minutes are left to pull the goalie, though, makes it almost impossible to score three.

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