TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — For the third-straight game, special teams has proven to be the difference in the Lightning-Maple Leafs series. The first two games had 22 total power-play opportunities, and Friday’s game saw eight more. In that 5-2 Maple Leafs victory in game three, the Lightning found themselves on the penalty kill much more than they would have liked– and early in the game too.

“You can’t take five penalties in the first half of the game,” said Lightning forward Steven Stamkos. “It’s taxing. Give our penalty killers a ton of credit. Give our goaltender a ton of credit. We fought back hard, but [it’s] tough to go in a three-zip hole and expect to come back come playoff time.”

“You play basically just short of 10 minutes of 30 shorthanded, and then you’ve got– I think we had three minutes– so basically almost half of the first two periods is special teams,” said Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper. “And it’s been like that a ton. So it’s hard to comment on the five on five. It’s short sample sizes. But in saying that, the limited time we have, we’ve liked what we’ve seen. But I think special teams has been a factor in all three games. Hence the (2-1) lead (for Toronto).”

The full-strength, five-on-five play was what most of the final period was comprised of– except for one Bolts power play. That’s when the Lightning were able to cut the deficit to one goal before the Maple Leafs sealed it with two late empty-netters.

“We had our looks in the third,” Stamkos said. “We had enough of them. The goaltender made some really good saves but I think five on five we found the recipe there in the second half of that game. We’ve got to stick with it. (We had a) great effort. I like the response by our group but we’ve got to dig deeper here and find a way and it starts with us as leaders.”

The strong finish was something the Lightning are hoping to build on going forward in this series, starting with Sunday night’s game four.

“It was our urgency,” Cooper said. “That’s what was the difference, and we weren’t sitting there killing the whole period. Those are two big things for me that we changed and we semi got rewarded for– just not enough.”

But Cooper was also quick to point out that despite a few encouraging takeaways, they’re now once again trailing in the series.

“We can sit here and pat ourselves on the back all night long and say, ‘Hey, great job pushing at the end,'” Cooper said. “It’s still you’re down (2-1). We’ve just got to take the positive out of this and move on to game four.”