"This is a five-alarm fire," coach Jon Cooper said.
The Presidents' Trophy-winning Lightning trail the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-0 in the Eastern Conference First Round after losing 5-1 at Amalie Arena on Friday.
[RELATED: Blue Jackets extend lead with Game 2 win over Lightning | Complete series coverage]
Worse yet, since scoring three goals in the first period of Game 1 on Wednesday, the Lightning have looked nothing like the team that tied the NHL record for wins in a season (62), that led the League in goals (319) and that finished first on the power play (28.2 percent) and penalty kill (85.0 percent).
They've been outscored 9-1 in the past five periods, including 4-0 on special teams, with three goals coming against their penalty kill and one against their power play.
Game 3 is at Columbus on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVAS, FS-O, SUN).
"We had a wonderful regular season statistic-wise, our wins, both our special teams finished first, but the regular season is different than [the Stanley Cup] Playoffs," Cooper said. "Things just happen so fast. All of a sudden it's 0-0 and you're all excited going into Game 1 and all of a sudden you're down 0-2 at home and alarms are going off.
"Have we faced a ton of adversity this year? We haven't. I've been in the League six years. and it probably hasn't gone any easier than it has this year. So now we've got some adversity."
The Lightning responded poorly to the adversity they faced Friday.
They were down 2-0 after the first period and 3-0 after the second. They had a glimmer of hope when defenseman Mikhail Sergachev scored at 5:00 of the third, but they couldn't convert on a power play that started 51 seconds later, and Columbus forward Riley Nash made it 4-1 at 9:06.
Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm2: Sergachev scores off defender's skate
Artemi Panarin made it 5-1 at 12:15 off a tic-tac-toe play with Matt Duchene (one goal, three assists) and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Frustration set in for the Lightning, most notably with right wing Nikita Kucherov, the NHL leader this season with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists).
Kucherov's night ended with 4:26 remaining in the third period when he picked up 17 minutes in penalties. He got a two-minute penalty for tripping Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara, then made things worse by getting a five-minute boarding major for a shot on Nutivaara. He also received a 10-minute game misconduct.
Kucherov stormed off the ice and punched the glass behind the Lightning bench on his way down the tunnel toward the dressing room. He has no points in Tampa Bay's past four playoff games, all losses dating to Game 6 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals.
"It was one of those games, and we've probably all been in this (situation), the harder you try sometimes it just doesn't go your way," Cooper said. "You need to take a breath. I can't sit here and say our guys didn't compete. They were finishing hits. They were skating. But it was almost the harder they tried the worse it got."
But the Lightning weren't trying to win the way they have all season. They were going overboard with their physicality, looking for hits that didn't need to be made, feeding right into the style the Blue Jackets want them to play.
Tampa Bay had 37 hits, about an average number for any team in a playoff game, but considerably more than the Lightning averaged in the regular season (25.8). Columbus had 17.
Video: Bobrovsky, offense power Columbus' 2-0 series lead
"I think at points we were kind of getting goaded into some things," Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Girardi said. "But we're a very experienced group in here. There's no panic."
The Lightning were in this situation in the conference final last season, down 0-2 after losing Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined score of 10-4. They rebounded and won the next three games before losing the series in seven.
It is an experience the Lightning should be able to draw on.
They also know the Blue Jackets were in this situation in the first round last season against the Capitals, up 2-0 after winning Games 1 and 2 on the road. Washington won the next four games.
The Lightning can't draw on that experience, but at least they know what they have to do is possible.
"We have to win a game, that's it," captain Steven Stamkos said. "There's no sugarcoating it. … We're not executing right now, and we have to stick with our game plan. When you don't stick to it, and you're playing a good team over there, it's going to cost you."
It could cost them again in Game 3 if they don't execute the game plan that worked so well in the regular season.
"It's adversity and, I don't know, sometimes that's good," Cooper said. "Sometimes you have to go through stuff like this. We'll see how we respond."