By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
RANGERS 5, LIGHTNING 2: Turnovers lead to two of New York's four goals in the period and leave Tampa Bay frustrated.
TAMPA - It was time for a warning.
The Lightning coughed up a fur ball that would have choked Garfield during Thursday night's dreadful 5-2 loss to the Rangers. Worse, a crowd of 21,124 at the St. Pete Times Forum saw Tampa Bay repeat a familiar and frustrating pattern.
First there were the missed scoring chances. Then the sloppy turnovers that helped serve up goals to New York on a silver platter.
Finally there was coach John Tortorella, making his grimmest assessment yet of what has turned into a stunning five-game losing streak, the Lightning's longest since it went 0-5-0-1 from March 24 to April 3 in 2002.
"We can talk as a team and have a meeting; have players meetings and coaches meetings," he said.
"But until we decide to pay attention to the details of the game and be consistent with our effort, we will not get out of this. We may win a couple here and there, but we will not be the team we should be."
At 7-8-2, Tampa Bay is under .500 (not including overtime losses) for the first time since the end of the 2001-02 season. On the other hand, the 10-5-3 Rangers, the surprise leaders of the Atlantic Division, are five games over .500 for the first time since Dec. 31, 2001.
After allowing four third-period goals, including two by Dominic Moore and an empty-netter, that broke open a 1-1 tie, Lightning players might be starting to feel the pressure.
"It's frustrating," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "We've been on the other side of the coin where we faced teams going into the third period and we say those teams know how to lose. We're kind of there right now."
To borrow an old joke, look in the dictionary under How to Lose and there will be a team picture of the Lightning.
A miscommunication between Vinny Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal led to a neutral zone turnover and Jason Ward's goal that made the score 2-1 4:40 into the third.
Boyle's power-play goal cut the Lightning's deficit to 3-2 with 8:47 remaining. But when forward Evgeny Artyukhin could not handle Nolan Pratt's pass, Moore picked up the puck and waltzed in to beat goalie John Grahame for a 4-2 lead with 4:12 left.
Pratt fell on his sword for a pass Artyukhin might have done more to control.
"Maybe I should have gone up the boards with it and made it a simpler play," Pratt said.
There was plenty more blame to go around. Boyle and defenseman Darryl Sydor, who had a particularly tough night, were minus-3. Lecavalier and Prospal were minus-2.
Tampa Bay, which outshot the Rangers 25-20, was 1-for-7 on the power play. The team did not get any jump from a pretty good penalty kill late in the second period in which the Rangers had a 1:25 five-on-three and an additional 35-second five-on-four.
And while Grahame made some remarkable saves through the first two periods, he could not make that game-turning stop in the third period, when he allowed three goals on seven shots.
"We looked forward to this game because it's a good test to see where we're at," Moore said. "Fortunately we were able to come out on top."
And the Lightning might have hit bottom.
"Tonight," Tortorella said, "we just (stunk)." Consider that a warning.