With Steven Stamkos sidelined for the rest of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning showed signs Tuesday night of having a power outage without the high-scoring No. 91 in the lineup.
In a highly anticipated third meeting with the Boston Bruins, whom they had beaten twice this season, the Lightning lost at home 2-1 in a physical, grinding Atlantic Division contest that had a playoff feel to it.
Owners of the best mark in the NHL and the top spot in the division, the Bruins went ahead 2-0, but Mitchell Stephens scored in the second period to create a one-goal game and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 33 shots.
Still, the offense was tough to come by and couldn’t prevent a loss for the Lightning.
Defeated in five of its past six games, Tampa Bay will host Atlantic Division foe Montreal Canadiens in their final meeting of the season Thursday.
In addition to failing to score the tying goal with the net empty against Boston, the Lightning weren’t even able to test standout goalie Tuukka Rask much.
Averaging 31.2 shots on goal per game this season, second-place Tampa Bay generated just 21 against the Finnish netminder, including single-digit shot production in each period and just five in the middle frame.
Stamkos’ stellar production — 29 markers and 66 total points — was missing for the third straight game and helped defuse the Lightning’s explosive offense.
“For about 35 minutes they had their way with us, probably the last 25 we had our way with them,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “They outshot us 35-21, (but) we had 21 shots on goal and 21 blocked. You’ve got to get pucks to the net.
“We were way too slow in our approach. We’d get pucks in good areas and shoot them into guys.”
Tampa Bay has lost back-to-back games to division opponents Boston and Toronto, both on home ice.
The Canadiens are attempting a longshot, late-season push for a wild-card spot, and they made their case better Tuesday night with a 6-2 road win over the slumping New York Islanders — one of the teams the Quebec club is chasing in the playoff standings.
Coach Claude Julien’s group won for the fourth time in its past six games (4-1-1) and crept to within seven points of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot with the victory on Long Island.
Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia each had a goal and an assist, Phillip Danault assisted twice and goalie Carey Price had a light night of work by stopping 20 of 22 shots by the Islanders.
However, Montreal lost left wing Tomas Tatar – the club’s leader with 22 goals and 39 assists – to a first-period injury.
“Just precaution. We took him out for precautionary reasons,” said Julien, who received a vote of confidence this week from GM Marc Bergevin to return as Montreal’s coach next season, despite the team on pace to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
The Canadiens have dropped all three contests against the Lightning, including a pair of one-goal losses in a six-day span around the turn of the calendar year. Tampa Bay was victorious 3-1 in the first meeting on Oct. 15.
–Field Level Media