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The Lightning blows a late lead, and John Tortorella blows his top.
By Eduardo A. Encina, Times Staff Writer
Published February 21, 2008
BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Lightning insists its playoff hopes aren't dead despite the fact the only national headlines it is making these days involve the strong possibility of more realistic postseason contenders raiding it for talent.
With Tuesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline approaching, the clock on the season is ticking away.
There are few opportunities remaining for this group of players to prove it is worth keeping intact, to prevent management from starting a rebuilding job.
And even knowing that Wednesday, the Lightning imploded.
Tampa Bay blew a two-goal lead in regulation's final three minutes and lost in overtime 4-3 to the Sabres at HSBC Arena - perhaps the knockout blow for the team.
After the game, coach John Tortorella stormed through the locker room, kicking a motorized fan and yelling profanities at his players.
"You better get it ... straightened out," he yelled, "because I'm not going to be ... around it. I'm not going to be ... around it."
It was the seventh time the Lightning (25-28-7) has lost, including four in overtime, when leading after two periods.
"These are the situations we've been in all year, and that's why we are where we are," a calmer Tortorella told reporters.
"We don't have the mental toughness."
It has been a recurring script for the Lightning: a third-period collapse full of frustration. This one came four days after a 3-2 loss to the Capitals in which the Lightning scored twice late to tie the score before allowing the winner less than a minute later.
"It's embarrassing," forward Marty St. Louis said. "It's embarrassing because we have guys who know how it's done."
The Lightning took a 3-1 lead with 6:48 left on Vinny Prospal's ninth goal in his past 10 games. Prospal got the rebound of Dan Boyle shot from the circle and backhanded it past Ryan Miller.
But the Sabres, who are among three teams tied for seventh in the East, rallied. Thomas Vanek scored on a deflection in front of the net with 2:21 left and then again 36 seconds later to tie it.
The Sabres outshot the Lightning 46-25, but Johan Holmqvist kept Buffalo at bay for most of the game with a season-high 42 saves and surviving five power plays in regulation.
But it was the final penalty, a hooking call on Boyle in overtime, that led to Buffalo's winner and Vanek's third of the night with 2:35 left.
"We had it in our own hands, and we couldn't take advantage of it," Holmqvist said.
Center Chris Gratton scored the game's first goal and maybe one of his last in a Tampa Bay uniform. Gratton, a potential unrestricted free agent in his third stint with the Lightning, is one of those players who could go.
Center Brad Richards, whose name is suddenly one of the most mentioned among Canadian news outlets to find a new home, scored his 150th goal to make it 2-0 1:03 into the third.
Lightning at Islanders
When/where: 7; Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
TV/radio: Sun Sports;620-AM
Injuries: Tampa Bay -Ryan Craig, C (knee) and Brad Lukowich, D (hernia) are out. New York -Shawn Bates, C (hip), Chris Campoli, D (shoulder), Mike Sillinger, D (hip), Jon Sim, LW (knee) and Brendan Witt, D (knee) are out.Bruno Gervais, D (oblique) and Andy Sutton, D (hamstring) are day to day.
Key stats: The third of four meetings, Tampa Bay is 0-1-1. ... The Islanders, who beat the Capitals 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday in Washington, are 3-5-2 in their past 10 at home and 16-12-3 overall there. ... Their home power play is last in the league, scoring on only 17 of 120 chances (13.9 percent). ... Center Mike Comrie leads New York with 45 points (18 goals and 27 assists).
[Last modified February 21, 2008, 01:15:01]