The Tampa Bay Lightning lost, 4-3, to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night in a game that can only be summarized as frustrating. Ross Colton and Nikita Kucherov scored for the Lightning. Oskar Sundvist, Jakub Vrana, and Lucas Raymond scored for the Red Wings. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 of 32 shots while Thomas Greiss stopped 38 of 41.
The Jekyll and Hyde Lightning came out to play tonight. After an outright dominant first period and scoring the first goal in the opening minutes of the second period, they became lazy, selfish, and failed to properly position themselves as the Red Wings scored three unanswered goals after Colton’s opening goal.
Detroit’s goals happened within five and a half minutes of Colton, making it 1-0. There’s no other way to describe that aside from embarrassing. Tampa Bay managed to cut the deficit down to one after Kucherov scored on a power-play shortly after Raymond made it 3-1, but the Red Wings aren’t a team the Lightning should be trailing and struggling to contain in their own end.
Luckily for Tampa Bay, they opened the third strong as Colton scored his second of the game 43 seconds into the final period after a beautiful feed from Steven Stamkos. This goal also saw Stamkos tie Martin St. Louis for most points in franchise history. The Lightning gained some much-needed momentum and looked to be dictating the pace of play again.
Unfortunately, like they’ve done far too often this season, a horrifically stupid decision threw all of those positives away.
The Lightning faithful have rallied behind Mikhail Sergachev the past three seasons as he has turned into one of the better two-way defensemen in the league. This season, it appears he’s regressed. It’s unclear whether it's mental fatigue or overconfidence, but he was an active detriment to Tampa Bay this evening, which feels like an unwelcome trend we are seeing this season. Three of Detroit’s goals were directly attributable to his poor decision-making (Vrana’s second goal), lazy plays (Raymond’s goal), and downright bizarre positioning (Sundqvist’s goal).
The frustrating thing about it is how it went down; Detroit looked like an AHL team in the first period, as Tampa Bay dominated every category tracked. Shot attempts 27-10, shots 15-5, scoring chances 17-2, high danger chances 8-0, expected goals percentage of 86. Tampa Bay didn’t have a lead entering the second due to Thomas Greiss having an outstanding game for the Red Wings.
Then, a horrifically ugly stretch in the second period wholly sunk their chances of winning and providing some positivity heading into another matchup against their first-round opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Who, by the way, are 11-1-1 in their last 13 and utterly demolished the Lightning on April 4th, 6-2.
Tampa Bay is inching ever closer to having zero margin for error come playoff time. The top teams in the league will feast on the mistakes and mental lapses they have repeatedly shown. Relying on a switch to be flipped is wishful thinking when their on-ice performance has been so inconsistent. A few duds here and there are expected in an 82-game season, and there were some ugly ones in 2020 and 2021. Still, this season the bouncebacks aren’t as emphatic, the comebacks feel lacklustre and lucky rather than earned, and the puck management that has defined back-to-back championship runs is lacking.
There’s been a lot of positing on whether they’re physically or mentally drained after playing more hockey than any other team in the league for the past two years, and some of that could explain this season’s wild inconsistency. However, with a first-round matchup against a Toronto team firing on all cylinders, even with Auston Matthews out of the lineup, looming in the near future, this Lightning team needs to rectify these inconsistencies immediately. Playoff pedigree only matters when you’re playing well enough for it to take effect.