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Urgency and season both slipping away

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It was obvious coach John Tortorella was upset after Friday night's awful 4-1 loss at Buffalo, but his short meeting with the media did not do justice to the depth of his disappointment.

"That probably was the lowest I've felt in the two years I've been involved with this organization, the way we displayed ourselves," Tortorella said before Saturday's game against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

"I'm worried sick about (where) our desperation level is at a crucial time of the year. It is disgusting."

Tampa Bay was never a factor against the Sabres and played without urgency or emotion for the third time in four games. That is startling for a team so close to climbing into the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

But the No. 13 team in the East doesn't seem to recognize it will not take a lot for it to fall out of the race either. "Don't even talk about playoffs. Don't even talk about staying in the hunt," Tortorella said. "Talk about getting back to where we are just competing in this league."

The team did talk about it, for almost an hour in a morning meeting. Tortorella declined to discuss details, but center Brad Richards laid it on the line.

"The main thing is, no more excuses and no more looking at somebody else," he said. "No one in here right now is at the top of his game. No one can tell me they are or they are lying to my face and the faces of his teammates.

"There's been too much looking at other people and not being honest with each other. You've got to realize you are the only one who can make a difference."

Said Tortorella: "I'm not talking about the bottom falling out here, but if there is one thing you can control as an athlete it's your desperation, and it's confusing to me why it isn't there. I don't have the answer. I think every individual has to figure that out."

ONE-LINERS: Cory Sarich has not scored in 102 games after Saturday's 6-2 loss. Said the defenseman, whose last goal was Nov. 24, 2000, against the Panthers: "Maybe I'm due."

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has struggled in three of four games, allowing eight goals on 27 shots to start the contests. Asked if he was ready to play for Russia in the Olympics, he said, "Apparently, not lately."

ODDS AND ENDS: Left wing Dave Andreychuk played in his 1,412th game, passing Harry Howell for 12th all-time. ... Right wing Nikita Alexeev and left wing Dmitry Afanasenkov were scratched.

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