Overshadowed and overcome

The Lightning, now losers of 11 of its past 13 games and eight pointsout of the final playoff berth, fails to convert on its scoring chances.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008

TAMPA - For all the noise in a stadium filled with about 20,000 people, the loudest Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum might have been the sound of the puck clanging off a cross bar.

Nothing better illustrated a sense of missed opportunities in the Lightning's 4-1 loss to the Penguins than the shot from defenseman Filip Kuba.

Unless, of course, you're talking about Jan Hlavac missing an open net or Vinny Lecavalier going low with a shot when he should have gone high, giving Pittsburgh goalie Ty Conklin the chance to make a stunning glove save.

Each time, Tampa Bay (16-23-5) was inches from success. Instead, it failed to build on Tuesday's victory over the Rangers, added to a 2-9-2 stretch and stayed eight points out of the East's final playoff spot.

"You can say we were close, but it doesn't mean anything," Kuba said. "We didn't get the job done, and that's the bottom line."

Indeed it is.

"I'm not too interested in analyzing," coach John Tortorella said.

"I'm interested in players making a difference more consistently. If we don't stop analyzing and don't start making a difference consistently, we're done."

Neither Lecavalier nor Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby figured in the scoring, though Lecavalier had a game-high six shots in 27:34 of ice time while Crosby had four shots in 20:49.

Then again, the game was more about the basics than the slick skills of the superstar centers.

Defenseman Paul Ranger gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 4:11 into the second period with an offense-creating rush. Jordan Staal scored twice in the period, the second with 5:27 left after Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin could not get the puck out of the zone and Karri Ramo could not save a shot he should have stopped from in close.

Ryan Malone's third-period goal that made it 3-1 with 2:39 left came after Petr Sykora's dribbling shot off a broken stick hit Staal and bounced to Malone, who was, as the textbooks say, charging the net.

The result: The Penguins won their eighth straight, Conklin, with 35 saves, won his ninth in a row since his call-up from the minors and Pittsburgh snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Lightning and a six-game streak at the Times Forum.

"All teams have pride," Crosby said. "Whether it was guys who were here for it or weren't here for it, you don't want to talk about it all the time. When we come here, we don't want to be known for bad games."

Tampa Bay played well defensively, but Hlavac misfired from just 35 feet away early in the second period with the score 0-0 and hit the outside of a post.

"Somehow, I missed it," said the wing, who has just six goals. "I've been battling that all season.

"I don't know what to do."

Lecavalier could have given Tampa Bay a first-period lead but failed. And Tampa Bay could not score during a four-minute power play to start the third period in which it had six shots and Kuba hit the cross bar.

"You've got to make those shots an inch lower, and you've got to make them go in for us right now," Kuba said.

Or the Lightning is done.