HAMILTON, Ont. -- Another second-period collapse by the Hamilton Bulldogs ensured they would leave the weekend without a point in three games and their already faint playoff hopes made nearly impossible.
David van der Gulik scored twice in just over three minutes of the second period as the Lake Erie Monsters handed the Bulldogs their third loss in as many days, 4-1 in the American Hockey League on Sunday.
Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre was honest when asked to assess his team's situation.
"At this point of the season, if you don't compete and you don't do it with desperate energy, you don't deserve to make the playoffs," he said. "Right now, we've dug ourselves a pretty big hole, and if we've stopped believing and we've quit, no one's going to benefit from that."
Van der Gulik had three points, and Chad Hunwick and Michael Schumacher also scored for the Monsters (25-27-6). Calvin Pickard made 24 saves.
Christian Thomas had the lone goal for the Bulldogs (25-28-5), who fell to last place in the AHL's Western Conference standings. They sit 11 points out of a playoff spot with just 18 games to play.
Hamilton's Devan Dubnyk stopped 21 shots.
Lefebvre sent a bold message to his players after losses on both Friday and Saturday, making captain and leading point scorer Martin St. Pierre a healthy scratch.
"I'm not happy with (St. Pierre's) game," he said. "I've been talking with him and sending him messages here and there.
"Sometimes, as a coach, you have ways to get guys going, and hopefully he can rebound and get playing the way that he can."
Two fighters who had met earlier this season renewed hostilities to open the game, as Hamilton's Nick Tarnasky and Lake Erie's Guillaume Desbiens took part in a staged fight at the faceoff.
Dubnyk looked confident in the early stages, twice denying the Monsters in close after giveaways by defender Morgan Ellis.
His efforts kept Lake Erie off the scoreboard in the first period, and Hamilton nearly opened the scoring just over 10 minutes in when Sven Andrighetto eluded coverage to slip into the low slot, but neither he nor Maxime Macenauer could get wrist shots past Pickard.
Hamilton finally opened the scoring at 15:55 of the first when Andrighetto slipped a pass into the high slot that set up Thomas for a crushing slapshot over Pickard's shoulder.
The goal was a welcome sight for the rookie, who admitted that his production of just 19 points in 39 games has not met his expectations.
"It was big, because I haven't scored in a while," he said. "I've been having a slow season so far, but hopefully that gives me some confidence for the rest of it."
The Bulldogs looked to build on their lead in the second when they were awarded a penalty shot when a broken stick was used to interrupt play. Andrighetto was selected to take it, but he couldn't solve Pickard.
The missed opportunity proved costly when Lake Erie went to a power play, and van der Gulik scored his first of the period to level the game at a goal apiece at 16:06.
He scored again just 3:06 later, when Andrew Agozzino sent a centring pass into the high slot, and van der Gulik connected with a low, one-time shot that clipped inside Dubnyk's far post.
Lefebvre singled out Andrighetto's missed penalty shot as a turning point in yet another discouraging second period for the Bulldogs.
"Our second periods have been nowhere to be found this year," he said. "We gain momentum in the first period and then we come out in the second and we're flat."
The Monsters added insurance with second power-play goal as van der Gulik threaded a pass from the point to Hunwick at the left circle. He had plenty of time to work with, and beat Dubnyk with a wrist shot over the shoulder at 9:11 of the third period.
Schumacher added a fourth Lake Erie goal when he stole the puck from a Hamilton defender and shot through Dubnyk's pads at 13:45 of the third.