By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
THRASHERS 6, LIGHTNING 4: The NHL's top penalty-killing unit can't stop Thrashers from converting on all of its power-play situations.
TAMPA - Even Lightning coach John Tortorella had to see the irony and a touch of humor in it all.
Just the other day, the media pestered Tortorella with question after question, searching for the details and nuances behind his team's league-best, near-perfect penalty-killing unit. It had allowed only three power-play goals all season in 62 chances and was, perhaps, the chief reason for its 7-3-2 record heading into Tuesday's game against the Thrashers.
"It never fails," Tortorella said with the slightest smile on his face. "You guys write all these articles and we talk about it until we're blue in the face about how good (something) is and you get spanked.
"It always happens. So if you ask me another question about something that's going good, I'm not going to answer it."
Tortorella might have laughed if he had not just witnessed the Lightning's pride-and-joy unit get shredded in a 6-4 loss in front of 19,820 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Thrashers scored four power-play goals. Yep, four. In four chances. After the Lightning had allowed three all season.
"It cost us the game," Lightning center and penalty-killer Tim Taylor said.
The four power-play goals is the most ever allowed by the Lightning at home and only one off the franchise record. What made it so shocking was how bad it was after how good it had been.
"I guess we cursed ourselves," Taylor said. "We talked about how good it was and then we, obviously, didn't get the job done."
All season, the Lightning's penalty-killing unit short-circuited power play after power play to save games. It had given up just one power-play goal in 37 chances over the past eight games.
Then came Tuesday's crash.
"I think we got caught thinking way too much instead of just using our instincts," the Lightning's Rob DiMaio said. "We just over thought everything. We were passive when we should have been jumping and jumping when we should have been passive. And they just picked us apart."
When the teams were at full strength, the Lightning held the edge.
"I thought we did a lot of good things five-on-five," Tortorella said.
But a disturbing pattern kept repeating itself: Lightning goal, followed by a Lightning penalty, followed by a Thrashers' power-play goal.
"You could tell it was going to be one of those games," Tortorella said.
The Lightning took 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 leads on two goals by Brad Richards, including one short-handed, and another by Vinny Lecavalier.
But before the Lightning could pull away, the Thrashers' power play would strike. Marian Hossa broke a 3-3 tie early in the third period on a rare even-strength goal to put Atlanta up for good. Jaroslav Modry's goal (on the power play, of course) put the Thrashers up 5-3 midway through the period and made Vinny Prospal's goal with 4:52 left a mere footnote.
"The power play was on fire," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said.
And the Lightning's season-high, three-game win streak was burned to a crisp.
"I don't know how to explain it," Taylor said. "We did a lot of the same things we always do, but the puck was like a seeing-eye puck. Guys were trying to block shots, but the puck seemed to be going through and around guys. But we have no excuses."
And no moral victories.
"You like to think you played well, but we're in the business of winning and losing," Taylor said. "I'd sure rather play brutal and win a game than think you played all right and lose. The bottom line is we didn't win the game."
Hard as it is to fathom, the bottom line is the Lightning lost because it couldn't kill penalties.