SAN JOSE –- The game was there for the taking.
The Lightning were opening a five-game road trip, probably still getting adjusted to West Coast time. They were down two of their big minute defensemen due to injury. They had lost three straight on the road, dropping 16 of 28 games overall away from home headed into Sunday’s match at SAP Center.
Still, in what was an evenly played game for much of the night, they prevailed over the struggling Sharks, 5-2.
“We thought we did some good things tonight, but not enough of them,” Todd McLellan said. “There were moments where details got away from us. You don’t beat first place teams like that. You have to be alert all the time. A couple of goals, in particular the third one, a bounce off of skates. … That’s a tough one to swallow.”
McLellan is referring to the game-winner, credited to Ondrej Palat just 10 seconds into the third period that gave the Lightning a 3-1 lead.
The Sharks won the opening faceoff, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s pass towards the neutral zone ended up on Palat’s stick. Seconds later, Burns had a chance to clear but could not, and Palat again found it on his tape. The Lightning forward lined up a shot, Burns turned away from it, and the puck bounced off of Burns’ skate and snuck through Antti Niemi.
“I knocked it away from Palat and Burnzie knocked it right back to him, then it hit my skate and Burnzie’s skate and went in,” Vlasic said. “He does that 100 more times, he’s not going to [score].”
Burns said: “It kind of came to my back side, and I just tried to kick it out of the middle. I don’t know if it went off Eddie and back out, but it got deflected twice again. It’s hockey.”
Burns’ power-play goal brought the Sharks back to within 3-2, but the Lightning were given far too much open ice on a rush later in the third, with Burns and Vlasic again on the ice together. Cedric Paquette put the game away at 16:19 on a stoppable wrist shot.
Earlier, Ryan Callahan was left wide open in the offensive zone, while Alex Killorn skated freely towards the front of the net for a deflection goal in the second period to stake the Lightning a 2-0 lead.
The Sharks have surrendered four or more goals in four of their last five games, and three or more in 16 of the last 24.
The compete level was there, after it has come and gone throughout the season, and the Sharks outshot the Lightning for the game, 35-33. But, that’s meaningless when the errors and breakdowns in coverage are occurring against the NHL’s top-ranked offense.
“It’s so frustrating because the mistakes we’re making are things we work on, things that we do in practice, things that we watch on video,” said Logan Couture, who scored his 21st goal and is now on a six-game point streak.
“I mean, no one’s going to be perfect in a hockey game, but when you’re constantly making the same mistakes every single night, you need to take a look in the mirror and wonder what you’re bringing, if you’re mentally prepared every night and you know what you’re supposed to do.”
San Jose remains in second place in the Pacific Division, but can be passed over by Vancouver, Calgary and Los Angeles if those teams all win their multiple games in hand.
The playoffs, and the Sharks’ 10-year streak qualifying, are looking less and less likely as San Jose is now just 2-4-2 in its last eight games.
“We need to get ourselves out of this if we want to give ourselves a chance to play beyond the end of the regular season,” Couture said.