tampabay.com

Beaten by the best

East-leading Buffalo again rallies from an early deficit to defeat Tampa Bay.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published December 6, 2006


TAMPA - It is difficult to tell what is missing from the Lightning. Perhaps that is because the gap in its game is more intangible than specific.

The want-to is certainly there. Effort is being given. Somehow, though, that certain something that turns opportunity into success just isn't there.

Take Tuesday night's 4-1 loss to the red-hot Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Tampa Bay led almost every statistical category from faceoffs won to hits to takeaways. Yet, the Sabres found a way to win. And the Lightning lost for the fourth straight game, including once in a shootout, to fall to 13-13-2 and 7-8-0 at home.

"It's agony," coach John Tortorella said. "You've just got to keep going. We're going to keep on fighting. We're going to keep on working to get better, and hopefully some good things will happen for us."

There was hope early for Tampa Bay as Vinny Lecavalier scored 53 seconds into the game. Andre Roy, in his first game since being acquired off waivers from the Penguins, thrilled the crowd of 20,025 on hand to honor former captain Dave Andreychuk and teammates by fighting tough guy Andrew Peters.

But Buffalo, the top team in the East and an incredible 10-1-1 when an opponent scores first (not to mention a league-best 12-2-0 on the road), scored three times in the first period and once in the third as Daniel Briere finished off his first career hat trick.

The Sabres, who have yet to lose two in a row, won by converting opportunities; that is, making big plays, something Tampa Bay lately has failed to do.

Consider:

Defenseman Filip Kuba was beaten off a puck in the Lightning zone, Tampa Bay's defense left two Sabres alone in front of the net. Briere scored.

Brad Richards was stopped point blank by Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, Buffalo countered with a three-on-one and Chris Drury scored.

Richards gave away the puck in the defensive zone, goalie Marc Denis could not come up with what would have been a huge save, and Briere scored a deflating goal with 2:45 left in the first to make the score 3-1.

"We didn't play terrible," Lightning right wing Marty St. Louis said. "But against a good team like that you have to play an almost perfect game."

"Things didn't start the way we wanted them to but we stuck with it and really showed some great character," said Miller, who made 29 saves. "We picked it up as the game went on."

While the Lightning kept missing chances.

The power play was 0-for-5 and is 0-for-23 its past four games. The Lightning outshot Buffalo 30-25 but many shots were without much congestion in front of the net, meaning Miller only had to be solid. St. Louis was minus-3. And Denis fell to 0-5-2 in his past seven games.

At least it wasn't as bad as the 7-2 pasting Buffalo gave the Lightning last month.

"I believe in the guys," Tortorella said. "We've got good players here. We've just got to figure out how to make a big play. They are capable. We've see them do it. We're going to stick with it and fight through it together here."

And find what is missing.

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infobox:

Sabres 4

Lightning 1