A fast start has given way to an uphill battle for the Tampa Bay Lightning's playoff hopes.
The Bolts, then, should be glad they are set to visit the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, when they try to avoid a third straight setback and hand their division rivals a fourth loss in a row.
Tampa Bay opened the season by winning six of seven, but now sits four games under .500 at 10-14-1. The Lightning have lost seven of their last eight and blew a two-goal lead in the third period of Saturday's 4-3 setback to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
Steven Stamkos, Sami Salo and Ryan Malone all scored in the second period, but it was Montreal that potted three goals in the third frame to hand Tampa Bay a loss that left it tied for 12th overall in the Eastern Conference and seven points back of the eighth spot.
"We've got a big hill to climb, but we've got to believe," said Stamkos. "We have to have the mentality of being hungry to win."
Stamkos notched his league-leading 19th goal of the season, while Martin St. Louis had two assists to push his point streak to six straight games (2 goals, 7 assists).
With Mathieu Garon out with a lower body injury, Cedrick Desjardins gave Anders Lindback the game off in net and yielded four goals on 29 shots. Desjardins was making his third career start and first since Jan. 1, 2011.
Lindback is likely to start this game as the Lightning try to beat the Panthers for a seventh straight time. That includes a win in the first two of five meetings this season.
Tampa Bay rallied from two goals down in the third period to claim a 6-5 win in overtime in the most recent encounter on Feb. 16 in Florida. The Lightning scored the final two goals of the third, getting the tying tally with 11 seconds to go, before Benoit Pouliot scored his second goal of the game at 1:19 of overtime.
The Bolts have won three straight and four of the past six in Sunrise, though all six games have gone past regulation.
The Panthers try to avoid a fourth straight setback overall as they were dealt a 5-2 loss by the Canadiens on Sunday. Shawn Matthias and Tomas Kopecky each tallied for Florida, which has lost 13 of its past 16 (3-8-5).
"It's unacceptable," said Matthias of the Panthers' performance. "I've been through this before, it's not fun. I'm sick of losing, I'm sick of being down, it's wearing on you. I'm just really tired of it, we need to change things. We need to turn this ship around. It's gone on long enough."
Jacob Markstrom made 33 saves, but allowed all five goals in the setback.
The Panthers sit last in the NHL with seven wins and 20 points, one season removed from winning the Southeast Division.