The Tampa Bay Lightning bumbled and fumbled for just a few moments Monday, but once again it was just enough of a slip to make them stumble in the end.
New Jersey scored three times in the second period to break open a tight game before holding on for a 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in front of an announced crowd of 17,341 at the Forum.
Steven Stamkos scored twice to pull into a tie for the league lead with 18 goals, but the Lightning couldn't overcome the mistakes no matter how hard they tried to fight back, and they did try to make a game of it.
After surrendering two goals in the opening 5:38, including an open rebound goal for Petr Sykora 28 seconds in, Tampa Bay rallied to get even by the end of the opening 20 minutes.
Steve Downie fired a wrist shot from the slot off a nice no-look feed from Matt Gilroy at 17:34, then Blair Jones raced his way to the front of the net before cutting to his backhand to tie the game with 1:06 left in the period.
But after Zach Parise scored 56 seconds into the second period to regain the lead for New Jersey, Dwayne Roloson was pulled after facing only 12 shots. While head coach Guy Boucher used the maneuver to try to light a spark under the team, it failed to have the desired result.
"I needed to turn the game around. I needed to do something and I felt that was the moment,'' Boucher said. "I didn't feel in the first period (we) needed to do that. (Roloson) was battling, it was 2-2 and we were back in the game. But I didn't want to wait at that moment to wait for something to happen.''
Instead, a Gilroy turnover at the New Jersey blue line led to a 2-on-0 breakaway for New Jersey as Parise fed Ilya Kovalchuk at 5:42. Then, with Tampa Bay on its fourth power play of the period, a puck took a funny carom off the side boards and out of the zone. Brett Clark stumbled trying to get back, setting up another 2-on-0 chance that was buried by rookie Adam Henrique, once again set up by Parise, at 13:23 for a 5-2 Devils lead.
Though the Devils ended the period outscoring the Lightning 3-0, Tampa Bay held a 17-6 advantage in shots with the turnovers proving the difference.
"Sometimes it goes that way, and sometimes it goes the other way. We just have to get rid of them because any time we do make a turnover, it ends up in our net,'' defenseman Pavel Kubina said. "We give up two-on-ones, two-on-nones. There's not much a goalie can do when we do that, so we just have to get rid of them.
"We've been talking about them a lot and it cost us a game tonight.''
The Lightning power play once again proved more of a liability than an asset. In addition to giving up the fifth short-handed goal of the season, the Lightning finished just 1-of-5 and failed to convert 20 seconds of a two-man advantage in the second.
And though Stamkos scored a power-play goal at 9:29 of the third — and another at even strength with 33 seconds left — it was not scoring with the man advantage at key times that once again proved to be deflating for a fragile team.
"It's frustrating. That word doesn't even describe what I'm feeling, personally,'' Stamkos said. "In games like this where we have a slow start, or things are not going your way and you are not getting the bounces offensively, you need your power play to get you a goal and generate some opportunities, at least, if you are not going to score.
"It has been frustrating and obviously we have to find a way to correct it because it hasn't been very good, to say the least.''