SENATORS 5, LIGHTNING 4 (OT): Tampa Bay still can't solve its nemesis, losing after a wild third period and overtime.
TAMPA - The message, everybody seemed to agree, was mixed.
The Lightning fell 5-4 in overtime to the Senators Monday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, meaning Tampa Bay will enter the postseason with at least one victory against every playoff team in the East except Ottawa.
But though the Senators swept the four-game season series, Tampa Bay believed it proved a point.
"What we were looking for as we approached this game was to respect them but don't be in a situation where you watch them play," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "I think we crossed that hurdle."
On the flip side was the way Tampa Bay lost a 3-2 lead with 3:12 remaining, the reminders of how little mistakes can hurt against playoff teams and a continued wait for goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to make game-turning saves.
Still, Tortorella said, "I'm not down on my hockey team at all."
Or with captain Dave Andreychuk whom he called "a warrior." Andreychuk scored with 3:12 remaining in the third period to give Tampa Bay its one-goal lead, and again with 27.9 seconds remaining to tie the score at 4 after the Senators scored twice in a span of 1:38 to surge to a 4-3 advantage.
Andreychuk's 21 goals gave him at least 20 in 19 seasons. Only Gordie Howe with 22 and Ron Francis with 20 have more.
Martin St. Louis had two assists to give him a league-high 91 points. Vinny Lecavalier also had two and Cory Stillman's 25th goal is one more than last season.
Though Chris Phillips' goal with one minute left in overtime gave Ottawa the victory, the Lightning, with a point for the regulation tie, moved closer to wrapping up the No.1 seed in the East.
With 104 points and two games remaining, Tampa Bay's magic number is three over the Bruins, who have 99 points and four games left. Boston will have 107 points if it wins out. The Lightning matches that with three points and wins the tiebreaker with more victories.
The Maple Leafs also have 99 points but with just two games remaining can't catch the Lightning. Tampa Bay also is one point behind the Red Wings in the race for the Presidents' Trophy given to the league's No.1 team.
All well and good, center Tim Taylor said, "But come playoff time, we'd better be able to react after we score a goal. You get that goal (to take a 3-2 lead) and the game should be over. If that happens in the playoffs, we're in trouble."
Having Khabibulin play a 60-minute game would help.
He was extraordinary at times and made 31 saves as Ottawa outshot the Lightning 36-28. But he let Mike Fisher's goal that gave the Senators a 4-3 lead with 1:09 left slip between his arm and body. And though Khabibulin was screened on Phillips' goal, the shot came from the blue line and was untouched.
Khabibulin said he didn't see Phillips' shot until it was in the net. He said he should have had Fisher's goal.
"I'd like to have that at that point in the game," he said. "I played it right positionally. I just wasn't able to make the save."
There were other missed details.
After Andreychuk's first goal, Ottawa tied the score 25 seconds later on Marian Hossa's brilliant tip with 2:47 left. The sequence included Stillman letting a puck slip through his legs in the defensive zone.
Phillips' goal happened after Darryl Sydor gave away the puck in the defensive zone.
And after Stillman gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 first-period lead, Ottawa tied it with 20.6 seconds left on Martin Havlat's breakaway that came after Cory Sarich whiffed on a shot from the blue line and the Senators flew the other way in transition.
Ottawa went ahead 2-1 on Daniel Alfredsson's goal 29 seconds into the second period, but Tampa Bay did not wither as Dan Boyle scored 54 seconds later to tie.
The Lightning also was stout physically and skated step-for-step with one of the league's fastest teams.
So even though the loss left a bitter taste, Tortorella said, "I thought we showed a lot of jam in a lot of different areas, and we found a way to get a point."
And, maybe, make one as well.