TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper opened Friday night’s postgame news conference as if he was prepared to face a firing squad.
“All right, unleash,’ he said. “You (media) have a lot of ammo.”
The Lightning had just lost 5-3 to the Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena, but it shouldn’t have been even that close. Tampa Bay got outplayed throughout. Though goalie Ben Bishop took the blame for allowing the fifth goal, it was his teammates who let him down in one of the team’s worst efforts of the season.
“We could have put Ben and (backup Andrei Vasilevskiy) in the net at the same time and I don’t think it would have made a difference,” Cooper said. “It had nothing to do with goaltending.
“We were just red rotten. That was it. From start to finish. In 82 games, you got to chalk one up to a stinker, and that was it. We got taught a lesson by a team that worked way harder than us.”
The Lightning (13-8-1) got outshot 38-28, but it had just eight shots until late in the second period. It was sloppy with the puck with 12 giveaways, four leading directly to goals. And it was soft in defensive zone coverage in front of its net, leading to several “freebies,” as Cooper put it.
“We wanted to skill the game and not get in anybody’s way and not go into any area (where) you have to pay the price,” Cooper said. “And that’s what happened.”
Said wing Ondrej Palat: “They outskated and outworked us for the full 60 minutes.”
The Lightning’s only other “stinker” this season came Oct. 30 in New York when the Rangers won 6-1. But Tampa Bay had won five of its previous six entering Saturday, including a come-from-behind victory Wednesday against Philadelphia.
The Lightning nearly pulled this one off, too. The Triplets line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Palat once again provided a spark, Kucherov’s second-period goal making it 2-1 Columbus. After giving up a goal on the next shift, Tampa Bay pulled within one again late in the second on Jason Garrison’s first goal of the season. Palat tied it four minutes into the third, set up beautifully by Kucherov, and the sellout crowd of 19,092 exploded.
The tie was short-lived. Columbus scored a minute later when Brandon Saad was left wide open in the slot and beat Bishop.
“We just gave them easy opportunities,” Garrison said. “That’s not the way we play defense.”
The Lightning is feeling the loss of top-pairing defenseman Anton Stralman, who missed his seventh straight game with an upper-body injury. That put a bigger load on young defensemen Slater Koekkoek, Nikita Nesterov and Luke Witkowski, who picked up his first NHL point assisting on Garrison’s goal.
But even Tampa Bay’s best defenseman, Victor Hedman, wasn’t immune to mistakes. With the Lightning down one and on a power play midway through the third, Hedman turned the puck over in front of his net. Cam Atkinson surprised Bishop with a shot from the slot, sealing the wins. Bishop felt he let the team down. But this “stinker” was a group effort.
First—1, CBJ, Wennberg 4 (Johnson, Saad), 3:46. 2, CBJ, Foligno 8 (Atkinson, Werenski), 8:35 (pp).Penalties—Witkowski, TB, (tripping), 7:36; Palat, TB, (delay of game), 16:55.
Second—3, TB, Kucherov 11 (Johnson, Palat), 8:33. 4, CBJ, Anderson 6 (Hartnell), 9:02. 5, TB, Garrison 1 (Filppula, Witkowski), 18:28. Penalties—None.
Third—6, TB, Palat 4 (Kucherov, Hedman), 3:37. 7, CBJ, Saad 5 (Wennberg), 4:34. 8, CBJ, Atkinson 8, 11:13 (sh). Penalties—Sustr, TB, (roughing), 3:54; Anderson, CBJ, (roughing), 3:54; Killorn, TB, (slashing), 7:15; Jenner, CBJ, (slashing), 7:15; Foligno, CBJ, (hooking), 9:16. Shots on Goal—CBJ 10-13-15—38. TB 4-9-15—28. PP opps—CBJ 1 of 2; TB 0 of 1. Goalies—CBJ, Bobrovsky 11-5-1 (28 shots-25 saves). TB, Bishop 7-7-0 (38-33).