Lightning returns home to disappointment
Tampa Bay opens a key stretch with a tough loss.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published March 17, 2007
TAMPA - Lightning coach John Tortorella wasn't upset after a home loss Friday that hurt his team's chances for a division title and gave those looking up at Tampa Bay in the playoff race hope.
Instead, he used the 3-2 loss to Buffalo as a measuring stick, and the best team in the Eastern Conference showcased for the Lightning how quickly tight games are won and lost.
A playoff feel surrounded the game at the St. Pete Times Forum, and with 11 games left in the regular season, the Lightning was determined to live in the moment.
But the Sabres stole the moment in a three-minute span in the opening period.
"(Buffalo) is the best team in the conference," Tortorella said. "You can see their speed. That's a pretty good indicator of where we need to be as a club. We just simply don't have that right now."
Down by one goal, the Sabres scored three in a span of 2:55 midway through the first period, including two by forward Jason Pominville.
"In a blink of an eye, it was 3-1," Lightning forward Marty St. Louis said. "They had a couple of good breaks. When you're down two goals to a team like that, it's tough to come back."
Lightning forward Vinny Lecavalier scored two goals - his league-high 47th and 48th - including a backhanded score 4:38 into the third that made it a one-goal game, but afterward Tortorella rehashed that he needs to see more balanced scoring.
"We need to get something from our secondary people on the offensive side," he said. "We need something else other than our top guys to help us in a close game, which they are all going to be."
With the loss, the Lightning (39-29-4) fell four points behind division-leading Atlanta, a 2-1 overtime winner against the Rangers, for a top-three seed.
The Lightning remained in the sixth spot of the Eastern Conference race with 82 points, four ahead of the No. 7 Islanders and No. 8 Hurricanes.
With seven of its final 10 regular-season games at home, the Lightning still thinks it can control its fate. After a game in Washington on Sunday, Tampa Bay returns home to face three teams in the top eight of the Eastern Conference.
"With 10 games left, you really have to put the past game behind you, win or lose," Lightning captain Tim Taylor said. "Right now, we're trying to play great hockey so we can get ready for the playoffs. Do I think we can win our division? Absolutely."
Pominville scored the Sabres' first goal, which came when Nathan Paetsch's shot from the left side went wide of the near post, bounced off the end boards and over to Pominville along the ride side for a score at 7:29.
Just 36 seconds later, the Sabres scored again, this time on a call that was changed to a goal after review.
Replays showed that Derek Roy's shot from the right side of the goal slid across the goal line and bounced in when it hit off the far post.
Pominville scored again at 10:25 on a pass from Daniel Briere from 16 feet to give the Sabres, who have now won the first two in their four-game trip, a 3-1 lead.
"The pressure builds inside the game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, "and you see what guys are made of, whether they're going to handle it. ... The atmosphere in the building at times felt like a playoff atmosphere."
The Lightning had opportunities to get back into the game, especially after its forechecking dominated throughout the second period - for the game, Tampa Bay had 21 hits to Buffalo's 10. But the Lightning couldn't take advantage of five power plays despite holding a 36-20 shot advantage.
Vinny Prospal couldn't convert a breakaway with five minutes left in the first, and Brad Richards' shot in close with 1:35 left in the third was stopped by goaltender Ryan Miller.