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Lackluster play dooms Tampa Bay

CANADIENS 6, LIGHTNING 2: Montreal's third-period outburst simply too much for "deflated" team.

By TOM JONES
Published March 5, 2006


TAMPA - Forget about looking at the teams ahead of the Lightning in the standings. It's time for the Lightning to peek over its shoulders at the teams creeping up behind it.

With 68 points, the seventh-place Lightning is about to be over-taken by hard-charging Montreal, yet it still holds a six-point lead over Atlanta for the eighth and final postseason slot in the East. That lead, however, won't last much longer if the Lightning continues to piddle away games and sink deeper into the mire it has been in since the end of the Olympic break.

One game after getting blown out by Florida, the Lightning's 6-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday in front of the 20,212 at the St. Pete Times Forum might have been more troubling.

Questions about the team's goaltending have resurfaced. Questions about the power play continued. And, most disturbing of all, coach John Tortorella accused his team of quitting when the going got tough.

"If you don't stick together as a team here through some of the this stuff and point fingers and simply show no fight at all?" Tortorella said. "It can't happen."

Here's what did happen.

After it crawled out of a 2-0 hole to tie the game in the opening minute of the third period, the Lightning collapsed. Goalie John Grahame gave up a goal that it appeared he should have stopped and that's when the Lightning, in the mind of Tortorella, quit. Montreal scored two more times in the next five minutes and then tacked on a late goal.

"The thing that bothers me the most is I just thought we shut it down," Tortorella said. "Was our goaltending good? No, it wasn't good. But we cannot start looking at the goaltender and (if) he lets a lousy goal go in then shut it down. If we're not getting the saves, we better win the game 6-5 or whatever it has to be. But to shut it down, that's the wrong way to go here. And that's what disturbs me the most."

Even the players admitted they never recovered from Montreal's go-ahead goal.

"The goal deflated us, but we didn't grab a hold of ourselves," Lightning center Brad Richards said. "We went the other way and it snowballed on us. That's the time of the game when we got to come together and help Johnny out and get back into the game. We didn't do that."

Then again, if the Lightning's power play, ranked in the bottom five of the league all season, showed up, Grahame's goaltending never would have been questioned. The Lightning's power play failed on its first six attempts as it went into the third period down 2-1.

"We shouldn't be down 2-1 going to the third period," Richards said. "Forget about the third period. We shouldn't be in that position."

It also didn't help to have another bad start. After giving up a goal 26 seconds into Tuesday's 8-2 embarrassment to the Panthers, the Lightning gave up a goal only 12 seconds into Saturday's game. The first of Christopher Higgins' two goals was the fastest ever to start a game against Tampa Bay, barely beating the former record of 13 seconds by Mike Craig of the old Minnesota North Stars on Nov. 19, 1992

Vinny Lecavalier did notch a power-play goal to tie the game 55 seconds into the third, but Richard Zednik's goal from the faceoff circle at 3:16 sent the Lightning into a tailspin.

"After that one goal, we gave up," forward Marty St. Louis said. "We went back into a shell a little bit. We didn't come back hard after that.

"We got to come back. We can't let that goal rattle us."

Now the scary part. The Ottawa Senators, one of this season's heavyweights and a team that has dominated the Lightning in the past two seasons, comes to town Monday. Then the Lightning begins a season-long five-game road trip.

"We just got to stop the bleeding," St. Louis said. "It's tough. Tough two games after the break. We have to stop it.

"There's no time for slides like this."