tampabay.com

'It feels like it's caving in on us'

SABRES 4, LIGHTNING 1: Brad Richards sums up the outlook after Tampa Bay loses its fifth in six games.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published December 24, 2005


TAMPA - Brad Richards sat in his sweaty T-shirt long after most of his teammates had left the locker room.

The Lightning center had his head down and spoke in a hushed tone that perfectly matched the mood of the moment.

"It's awful," he said. "I don't know how else to put it. I have no answers."

To bunches of questions.

Tampa Bay's 4-1 loss to the Sabres Friday night at the St. Pete Times Forum was the team's fourth straight and fifth in its past six games. It is nine points behind the Hurricanes in the Southeast, and Carolina has two games in hand.

The Lightning continued to be inconsistent, looking like the team that won the Stanley Cup one moment but like it lost its way the next. There were missed chances, defensive lapses at the worst times and an 0-for-7 power play that ignited harsh boos.

"It feels," Richards said, "like it's kind of caving in on us."

Compare that to the Sabres, who are 17-3-1 in their past 21 and rebounded after the Panthers snapped their seven-game winning streak and nine-game road winning streak, one off the NHL record.

Four different Sabres scored with Henrik Tallinder and Chris Drury hitting the net in the second period to snap a 1-1 tie. Goaltender Ryan Miller made it stand up with 30 saves.

"We got our feet back under us," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We really skated well."

They got lots of help by a non-call from referees Rob Martell and Don Koharski on Tallinder's goal that gave Buffalo a 3-1 lead with 9:56 left in the second. Buffalo's Paul Gaustad pushed Vinny Prospal into goaltender John Grahame, who left an empty net when flattened.

"That was a key play," Prospal said. "It was the third goal. Obviously, those kinds of calls you have to make. I got cross-checked into my goaltender. That was a big mistake."

Coach John Tortorella chose his words carefully.

"I think we have to look at what's going on," he said. "Yeah, it affected the play and I think it was done by purposefully. But that's not my call."

And, of course, one play doesn't lose a game.

After Prospal's 16th goal gave the Lightning a 1-0 first-period lead, Marty St. Louis missed a shorthanded breakaway, Jochen Hecht's apparent hook from behind notwithstanding.

With the score 1-1, St. Louis shot over the net after taking a perfect pass from Richards. And defenseman Dan Boyle got completely turned around in front of the net on Drury's goal that gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead.

And how about this for an energy swing? Tampa Bay had the second period's first seven shots but allowed the next nine.

"We have that responsibility to score that second goal and keep that momentum," said Tortorella, who added, "It's everybody. We need to score big goals and we need the big save at certain times. Tonight we didn't get that."

What they got was frustrated. Tortorella, who rarely talks about intra-team situations, raised a red flag.

"There were things within our team and amongst ourselves where there were some boiling points and frustrations with one another," he said. "It's very important right now, when things get to that level, that you stay together and work through this and find a way to get one win and, hopefully, regain some of our confidence."

Captain Dave Andreychuk agreed, but said outbursts during games "happen more than you think. We're all trying to do things to make us win, say the right things, make the right plays.

"We talked after the game that we win and lose as a team. We all have to help each other. We have to stop segregating ourselves, saying one line is playing well, or it's the defense. That way we're all together. We have to get back to that."

That would be fine with Richards.

"We're fragile right now," he said. "We have to bring our heads back up and come together a little more and push on."