A furious rally by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night was reminiscent of a similar surge that in recent weeks has vaulted the team back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Only this time, the effort fell just short.
Teddy Purcell and Martin St. Louis scored a pair of goals 46 seconds apart in the game’s final minute to chip away at a four-goal deficit, but it proved too little, too late, as the Lightning fell 4-3 to the division-rival Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre, snapping the club’s three-game win streak.
Steven Stamkos also scored his league-leading 43rd goal of the season, and Dwayne Roloson turned back 16 shots in relief for Tampa Bay, 10-4-2 in its past 16 games.
Winnipeg’s victory allowed it to jump Toronto and move into the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 67 points, while it also leapfrogged the Jets past Florida for the Southeast Division lead. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, dropped to just two points out of last place with 60.
With the Jets out to what seemed to be a comfortable 4-0 lead with just nine minutes to play in regulation, Stamkos cut the deficit to three late in the third period when he took a sweet no-look pass from Ryan Malone and wristed one over the shoulder of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to make it 4-1.
Stamkos now has six goals in his past four games for the Lightning, while also recording nine points in that span.
Still, with Winnipeg up three during the game’s final minute, things didn’t get interesting until the game’s final minute, when a pair of goals just 46 seconds apart capped a three-goal third period for the Lightning.
Purcell first made it 4-2 with his 16th of the year at 19:06, and St. Louis brought Tampa Bay to within one with seven seconds remaining in the contest.
Winnipeg’s early lead, however, proved too much to overcome, allowing the Jets to earn the win.
Pavelec made 22 saves for Winnipeg, which got goals from Andrew Ladd, Chris Thorburn, Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien.
Ladd opened the scoring with a one-timer past Mathieu Garon at 7:11 to grab Winnipeg a quick 1-0 lead.
Thorburn then doubled the advantage with 5:01 left to go in the period after whacking at a puck that appeared to be covered by Garon at the goal line. Despite some resistance from Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, who insisted his goaltender was pushed down, the goal stood for a 2-0 Jets lead.
“That first period really wasn’t good for us,” Lightning assistant coach Dan Lacroix said. “We had too many turnovers, we couldn’t get pucks deep, and they had a lot of momentum. There were a lot of areas of our game that we needed to improve.”
Tampa Bay didn’t fare much better in the second period either.
A pair of power-play goals in a span of 2:48 to open the frame put Winnipeg up 4-0, while chasing Garon from the net after he gave up four goals on 18 shots.
First, Kane’s 24th of the season made it 3-0 just 1:36 in after firing a wrist shot past Garon, even though it appeared Ladd had interfered with the Bolts net minder.
Byfuglien then increased the Jets advantage to 4-0 after another goal with the man advantage, this time coming on a shot from the point.
“I think we’ve been sticking with it, shooting the puck a lot, going to the net, getting a lot of opportunities and burying them,” Winnipeg defenseman Randy Jones said. “We’re doing the little things right and that’s what it takes.”
Despite the slow start, Roloson made a number of key saves late in the game to keep the Jets at bay. He first snagged a wrist shot with the glove off a point-blank shot from Ladd, then stopped Blake Wheeler from in close with approximately six minutes to go in regulation.
The Lightning conclude a three-game road trip with back-to-back games over the weekend against Pittsburgh and New Jersey, respectively.