TAMPA – Wanting to rebound from a disappointing loss Thursday, a three-goal deficit in the first period put the Tampa Bay Lightning in a hole they could not dig themselves out of, as it dropped a second consecutive contest, 5-2, Saturday against the Dallas Stars at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
A strong commitment from the Bolts' penalty kill kept the Lightning's hopes alive after killing off an elapsed seven minutes in the opening period, but they were not able to carry over their improvements in the last 20 minutes of play.
"We were a much more determined group in the second," head coach Jon Cooper said. "I thought we could have tied it or had the lead, but you'd think we'd come out and have more than five shots in the third period when we're down a goal at home."
With a four-game week ahead the Lightning hopes to decompress and start over by Tuesday, as points remain crucial in the race for home ice.
"We need to figure out a way for the game to be 0-0 longer or for us to start playing with the lead," captain Steven Stamkos said. "We need to get this out of our system and realize that there are other teams that can still catch us."
The Lightning found themselves in a spot all too familiar less than six minutes into the first trailing 2-0.
Two back-to-back penalties continued to slow Tampa Bay down. Right after Ryan Malone exited the box for hooking, Benn scored his second of the game.
"He pulled off in the slot," Bishop said. "He's a good player and he kind of snuck it through me."
A collision between Radko Gudas and Antoine Roussel resulted in Gudas being thrown a match penalty. Gudas exited the game and put the Bolts on a five minute penalty kill.
"I was surprised at the severity of the call," Cooper said. "But by no means am I sitting here saying the referee made a bad call. That's the stuff they're trying to take out of the game, so they will probably err on the side of protecting the player."
Able to shutdown the Stars' power play, Dallas continued to surge and Tyler Seguin made it 3-0 with 1:34 left in the first period.
"We've been outscored 5-0 in the first period the last two games," Cooper said. "Not good."
The middle frame yielded very different results as the Lightning came within two, while killing another extended penalty.
Ondrej Palat, who skated on a line with Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, picked up a loose puck and brought it along the boards before passing to Stamkos. Stamkos was setup in the right face-off circle and wristed it by Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen to bring Tampa Bay within two at 1:57.
Then Andrej Sustr parked himself next to Lehtonen stick side and batted a rebound home after Nate Thompson's shot deflected off Malone's stick to him. It was Sustr's first career tally, as he re-joined the team for the first time since January 16.
Another man advantage continued to give the Bolts momentum, while they delivered a number of chances, but the Stars managed to hold the Lightning off for the remainder of the period. Tampa Bay outshot Dallas in the middle frame, 16-7.
The Stars regained control in the third when Vernon Fiddler capitalized on a Stamkos takeaway in front of Bishop's net to give Dallas another two-goal lead. Meanhwhile Dallas outshoot the Lightning 6-0 through the first five minutes.
"I made that mistake in the third and it just sucked the life out of us," Stamkos said. "Every turnover we made was in the back of the net. That's how it's going right now."
Six and a half minutes later, the Stars padded themselves with a 5-2 cushion. Bishop stopped Cody Eakin's wrist shot, but Ryan Garbutt poked the puck free allowing Roussel to score at 7:57 of the third to cement the win.
UP NEXT – Tampa Bay plays the fourth game of a six-game homestand Tuesday night versus Atlantic Division rival the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bolts and Maple Leafs faced each other two weeks ago in Toronto with the Lightning winning the matchup 5-3. They then close out the week with back-to-back home games for the first time this season versus the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, before finishing their regular season slate in the nation's Capital Sunday afternoon.