Second period sinks Lightning in loss at home to Devils
TAMPA — The Lightning were well in control of Sunday night’s game against the Devils in the opening minutes of the second period.
Alex Killorn had just given the Lightning a two-goal lead. The tide was turning toward the Devils slightly; they had the first nine shots of the period before Killorn deftly made a move into the slot on the rush and found the back of the net, scoring a goal that should have taken the air out of New Jersey given how much pressure they were putting in the Lightning end.
Nine seconds later, everything seemed to change.
The Devils won the ensuing faceoff and Nico Hischier’s chip pass to Jesper Bratt along the right wing sprung him entering the zone. Bratt caught the Lightning flat-footed and rifled a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy as Devils forward Timo Meier crashed the net front.
Despite the lapse, the Lightning were still in control of the game. But Bratt’s goal was the first of three New Jersey scores over a six-minute stretch that quickly turned a two-goal Lightning lead into a one-goal deficit.
In a mixture of fatigue and loss of focus, the Lightning fell apart. And the result was a 5-2 loss to the Devils in the third meeting between the teams over a six-day stretch. The Lightning won the first two meetings in New Jersey.
“It’s probably inexcusable to give a goal up off a faceoff right away,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That should have never happened and that just kind of triggered their momentum and then they rolled. … Jersey didn’t reinvent the wheel. We just smashed the wheel ourselves. It was horrendous. And they just ended up in the back of our net.”
“It shouldn’t have any effect,” Cooper said of Bratt’s goal nine seconds after Killorn’s. “But it did tonight.”
The loss, which snapped the Lightning’s three-game win streak, was a step back for a team playing through the most challenging part of their regular-season schedule. Sunday’s game, which was the back end of home games on consecutive nights, was Game 16 of a stretch of 19 games in 33 days that ends Saturday afternoon in Boston.
“I think we started managing the puck horrendously and we invited them into the game,” said Lightning center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “I feel like we had control of the puck in the first, we managed it well. We had control in this first part of the second and then suddenly we kind of go out of our way and (commit) a few turnovers. They get a few more O-zone shifts and (their) confidence comes up.”
Consistent play in the second period has been a bugaboo for the Lightning. They have a minus-5 goal differential in the second period and a minus-60 shot differential in the middle 20 minutes. They struggled in the second period of Saturday’s home game against Montreal, but rallied to beat the Canadiens. Against a Devils team that is the best road team in the league with 56 points and a 26-5-4 away mark, the Lightning were unable to come back.
“I felt like it was kind of the same,” Bellemare said. “So it’s on us. Just have to figure it out, and I think for the most part of the year, our second period has been kind of like iffy.”
Bratt, who scored a tying goal off an offensive-zone faceoff win at the 9:22 mark of the second period, added an empty-net goal with 11.6 seconds remaining for his first NHL hat trick.
The Devils’ were on their way to their 23rd comeback win of the season after Nick Paul turned the puck over when he was pressured in the neutral zone by Bratt. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton scooped up a loose puck and pushed it to Hischier, who drove into the slot with no pressure from Lightning defensemen Zach Bogosian and Ian Cole retreating. Former Lightning first-round pick Nolan Foote scored midway through the third to make it 4-2.
In the first period, former Lightning forward Ondrej Palat received a standing ovation and an emotional video tribute in his first game in Tampa as an opponent. With the Lightning unable to retain him last offseason, Palat signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Devils.
“Oh my god, these are tough, because you’re just like an emotional train wreck,” Cooper said. “It’s pretty cool though because it fosters up a ton of great memories and (shows) how important Pally was to this organization.”
Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring in the first period with his 28th goal, giving him his third career 100-point season. Kucherov, already the only player in Lightning history with multiple 100-point seasons, became the sixth active player to record at least three 100-point campaigns, joining select company that includes Connor McDavid (six 100-point seasons), Sidney Crosby (six), Leon Draisaitl (four), Alexander Ovechkin (four) and Evgeni Malkin (three).
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