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Slow start dooms Tampa Bay

SABRES 5, LIGHTNING 3: Despite getting within a goal twice, Tampa Bay can't come all the way back from a 3-0 deficit.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2002

SABRES 5, LIGHTNING 3: Despite getting within a goal twice, Tampa Bay can't come all the way back from a 3-0 deficit.

TAMPA -- Lightning players were kicking themselves Sunday night, though a couple of gently placed shots at referees Paul Stewart and Tim Peel were thrown in as well.

Tampa Bay allowed three goals in the first 8:55 and lost 5-3 to the Sabres at the Ice Palace.

"Inexcusable," coach John Tortorella said of the slow start.

Maybe so. But high on everybody's list of talking points were the four consecutive penalties called on Tampa Bay in a span of 3:01 in the second period.

The result: 7:14 of Buffalo power play time, three consecutive five-on-three situations that lasted for 2:13, and a goal by Curtis Brown that gave the Sabres, who had watched a 3-0 lead slip away, a 4-2 advantage.

"We score that second goal and then all hell breaks loose as far as some of those calls," Tortorella said. "Some of them I still have yet to figure out."

"It's rare to have a sequence like that," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. "I don't know if I've seen it before."

It has been quite a while since anyone has seen the Lightning so mentally unprepared.

That despite the return of left wing Fredrik Modin, who missed 26 games with torn cartilage in his right wrist.

Add a Sabres team fighting for the East's final playoff spot -- they are six points behind the Canadiens with three games remaining -- and this is what you get:

Jason Woolley scored on the power play on the game's first shot at 1:26, Brown scored at 6:36 and former Lightning Chris Gratton scored at 8:55.

No blame to goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin who was left on an island.

"We're not fighting for the eighth spot, and I understand that," Tortorella said. "But still, we need to be ready to play and we weren't. Having said that, after that first period we played hard."

Shane Willis made it 3-1 56 seconds into the second period. Pavel Kubina made it 3-2 at 6:35.

Then Stewart and Peel stepped up.

Vinny Lecavalier was called for slashing at 7:31, Kubina for slashing at 9:18, Cullimore for cross-checking at 9:39 and Jimmie Olvestad for unsportsmanlike conduct at 10:32.

Olvestad's penalty came after Brown scored with Kubina and Cullimore in the penalty box. Kubina came out. But Olvestad went in. He admitted he said "some stupid words," creating another two-man disadvantage.

That call and the one on Cullimore drew the most questions. There was no question the sequence sapped Tampa Bay's momentum.

"It's awful tough," Tortorella said. "You get that second goal and you really get rolling and the building gets going and then. ...

"The way coaches look at it, if you're going to get put down two men, it needs to be a penalty worth putting you down two men. On Cully, I just couldn't understand that one, but that's all I can say about it."

"I used my hand to give him a shot," Cullimore said of the Sabres player. "He fell on Dave (Andreychuk, who was trying to get a play stoppage along the boards). My body blocked it so it looked worse."

Things looked a lot better during a third period the Lightning dominated, outshooting Buffalo 13-4 to take a 28-24 advantage.

"I think in the third period, they had a chance to give us a crack five-on-three, but no," Tortorella said of Stewart and Peel. "But again, we put ourselves in a hole."

Nikita Alexeev beat Sabres goaltender Martin Biron, but hit the post at 1:48.

Lecavalier's power-play goal, Tampa Bay's second in a row after a 2-for-50 stretch, cut the deficit to 4-3 at 12:22.

"Maybe we felt that we had the game in our pocket already," said Buffalo's Miroslav Satan, who had an empty net goal with 5.3 seconds remaining and three assists. "They fought back. They made it interesting."

So, some would say, did the referees.

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