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Bad loss, bad words

CANADIENS 4, LIGHTNING 3: John Grahame is the subject of John Tortorella's angry tirade after a loss to slumping Montreal.

By TOM JONES
Published December 29, 2005


TAMPA - Put any spin you want on it.

Such as the Lightning dominated the Montreal Canadiens for most of Wednesday night's game. Or that Montreal goalie Jose Theodore played out of his mind.

Or, like Lightning coach John Tortorella did in an expletive-laced, fist-pounding tirade, you could point a finger at Lightning goalie John Grahame, who gave up a goal that simply can't go in for the ultimate winner.

But the bottom line? Teams with Stanley Cup aspirations don't lose a game like the Lightning lost Wednesday night.

The Canadiens had gone winless in nine consecutive road games and had won only five of their previous 18, but rolled out of Tampa Bay with a 4-3 victory in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 21,934 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

In his postgame news conference, Tortorella laid into Grahame, essentially blaming him for the Lightning's troubles.

"Think that has a little thing to do with it tonight? Yeah," Tortorella said. "We can't have four goals go in our net on 10 (scoring) chances."

Tortorella was just heating up.

"Especially the fourth goal," he said. "It can't happen!"

With the scored tied at 3 midway through the third period, Grahame gave up an unscreened shot from the boards near the faceoff circle to Montreal's Pierre Dagenais. After that, the Lightning was done.

"You're telling me you want (the team) to get up there and get aggressive, but when a goal is scored like that, they're going to be tentative," Tortorella said. "And that has to stop for us to get any type of consistency here. Or we're done.

His simmer turned into a boil when he was asked if the Lightning needed to consider options outside the organization for goaltending help.

"Absolutely, but in today's game, where are we going to go with the (salary) cap?" Tortorella said. "I am (upset) at what is happening there because I thought our team played very well tonight. And this has gone on for quite a while. Is there other options out there? We can't do (anything)."

That's when Tortorella announced Sean Burke would start in goal Friday against Boston.

"And I hope he plays well," Tortorella said. "And if he plays well, he's going to go again. This is what we have. And I'm not up here trying to rip anybody apart, but let's be (expletive) honest about what's going on here. And it's getting old. We're going nowhere, nowhere until that situation is straightened out."

Grahame, who is 15-13-1 on the season, took the blame for Wednesday's loss by taking the heat for the winning goal.

"There's no excuses, apologies in a few of the things went wrong," Grahame said. "It's my fault. ... When you're confident and things are going your way, the puck looks like a beach ball. Right now, they're finding the cracks."

The Lightning outshot the Canadiens 44-24 and rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the second period on goals by Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Craig. Montreal scored its second power-play goal of the game 1:41 into the third, but the Lightning rallied again on Pavel Kubina's goal at 4:06.

That's when things the roof caved in on Grahame and the Lightning.

In the end, regardless of whether it was the fault of Grahame or a power play that went 0-for-5 or simply not cashing in on enough of its 44 shots, the Lightning was left to sift through a wreckage and find an explanation for another loss that put it at 19-16-3 and barely hanging on to a playoff spot.

Playing well and coming up short just isn't cutting it.

"Obviously, if you ask anyone, as long as we're winning, I don't think anyone cares how we do it," forward Fredrik Modin said. "Once again, it feels like we have to stand here and defend our loss."

On Wednesday, it was hard to defend.