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Offense finds trigger too late in Toronto

LEAFS 5, LIGHTNING 3: It's back to the drawing board after an uninspired loss.

By TOM JONES
Published November 6, 2005


TORONTO - The Lightning spent Friday night dabbing eyes and getting goose bumps at the Hockey Hall of Fame watching a video of its Stanley Cup run in 2004.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, only a video these days brings up reminders of a Cup team.

Whatever small strides the Lightning seemed to take in recent games went down the tubes Saturday night. In front of 19,390 at the Air Canada Centre and a national television audience watching on Hockey Night in Canada the Lightning came out flat and ended up with a 5-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.

The Lightning (7-6-2) mounted a furious rally in the third period, cutting a 4-1 deficit to 4-3, but ran out of time and has lost three in a row for the first time this season.

"It's frustrating because we all wanted to come out and play well," Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said. "It's Toronto on a Saturday night, it's a big game, most of us are Canadians and we really wanted to play well and we came out like that."

The Lightning fell into a 2-0 hole in the first period and by the time it stopped hitting the snooze button, it was the third period and the score was 4-1.

"That first period might have been our worst period all year," Boyle said. "Why do teams come out flat? I have no idea. But it was frustrating."

Especially because the Lightning seemed on the verge of finding its game.

And for long stretches Saturday, the Lightning dominated and outshot the Leafs 36-26. But the only goal it could muster in the first 40 minutes was rookie Evgeny Artyukhin's first NHL goal early in the second period.

"What's happening is when we're playing better than the other team, that surge, we're not scoring," Lightning center Tim Taylor said. "And when they surge on us, they are scoring. It seems that every breakdown we have, it's in our net. And the breakdowns on the other side, we're not capitalizing."

Part of the blame could be heaped on the shoulders of goalie John Grahame, who didn't necessarily give up any bad goals, but didn't make any big saves either as the Leafs stretched a 2-0 first period lead into a 4-1 lead in the second.

Of course, a couple of shaky defensive breakdowns and a bad giveaway in his own end by captain Dave Andreychuk on the eventual winning goal didn't help.

The Lightning finally put a scare into the Leafs with third-period power-play goals from Dan Boyle and Vinny Lecavalier and trailed 4-3 with nearly 11 minutes left. Toronto didn't ice the game until scoring into an empty net with 2.1 seconds left.

"They were there for the taking," Boyle said. "And we just didn't take advantage of it."

Any hope for a comeback was snuffed as the Lightning began a parade to the penalty box.

"Take those penalties and you're not even giving yourself a chance to win," Andreychuk said.

The Lightning was called for three penalties in the final eight minutes, including a double-minor to Darryl Sydor for high sticking.

"Stupid penalties, and they are penalties," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "You lift your stick, you're going to get called.

"At a crucial time when we have them on the run, we just absolutely blow ourselves up by sitting in the penalty box. That's all part of it. That's why you don't win."

Suddenly, the Lightning can't win. It seemed to stumble to start the season, yet still was 7-3-2 through October. But now it holds its longest losing streak since four games in December, 2003.

"There are a lot of expectations in this room," Andreychuk said. "We expect to win every night. And those first two periods - that wasn't our best."

These days, to see the Lightning at its best, one has to watch a video.