TAMPA — Lightning players stood at center ice after Monday night's game and raised their sticks to salute the fans who remained to the bitter end of a dreary 2-0 loss to the Thrashers.
It was the least they could do.
In the St. Pete Times Forum finale players said was important for them to win for their own egos and the sake of the fans who supported them so well through a dreadful season, Tampa Bay just didn't have the expected jump.
"It's disappointing," center Vinny Lecavalier said.
"It's embarrassing," coach John Tortorella said, "for both teams."
It is the Lightning, though, which has less of an excuse. A victory against an Atlanta team that entered on a 3-12-4 streak would have pulled Tampa Bay (31-39-9) out of last place in the Southeast and ahead of the Thrashers.
But the Lightning couldn't get a generally soft 36 shots past goaltender Kari Lehtonen and went 0-for-6 on the power play against a team that entered with the league's second-worst road penalty kill and had allowed 16 goals in its previous 52 shorthanded chances.
Lecavalier agreed the energy was lacking.
"We're all professionals, but at the same time it's tough," he said. "We're used to playing and battling for something. I guess we're battling for the name of the organization and ourselves, so I guess we do have something to fight for. But it isn't the same as fighting for a playoff spot or getting ready for the playoffs."
Which the Lightning will miss for the first time since 2001-02.
The good news for Tampa Bay was goaltender Mike Smith generally looked sharp in his first game since straining his left knee in a March 24 practice. He made 22 saves.
"Not 100 percent," he said, "but good enough to be in the game mentally."
Other than that, it was downhill.
The Lightning lost its seventh straight home finale (0-6-1) and finished the season 20-18-3 at the Times Forum; its fewest home wins since 16 in 2001-02.
It also fell three points behind the Thrashers, who got two goals from Ilya Kovalchuk; the winner with 5:06 remaining in the third period and an empty netter, his 52nd.
After that goal, defenseman Dan Boyle angrily smacked the puck into the net.
"We wanted to win this one for our fans," he said. "To not even get a goal is pretty disappointing."
"It's very disappointing," said Lecavalier, who had just two shots. "We want to win every game at home. We want to win it for the fans and want to win it for the team. It's definitely tough, especially how great the fans are, how positive they are with us, cheering us on."
And the fans did cheer as the team skated off the ice.
About 90 minutes later, workers chopped up the ice around the Times Forum boards. A large plow began shaving the middle of the ice down to the cement floor.
"Certainly there are going to be some changes," Boyle said. "That's sad. But that's what needs to happen in order for us to get better; you need to change things. We're going to see friends move on, and it's sad, but it's our own fault."
That and how the team played its final home game were nothing to salute.
First Period—None. Penalties—McCarthy, Atl (high-sticking), 13:21; Atlanta bench, served by Kovalchuk (too many men), 16:39.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Kozlov, Atl (high-sticking), 2:25; Boulton, Atl (tripping), 5:17; Kwiatkowski, Atl (interference), 16:38.
Third Period—1, Atlanta, Kovalchuk 51 (Thorburn), 14:54. 2, Atlanta, Kovalchuk 52 (Holik, Thorburn), 19:01 (en). Penalties—Lukowich, TB (interference), 2:15; Tampa Bay bench, served by Jokinen (too many men), 7:23; Valabik, Atl, major (fighting), 10:48; Tarnasky, TB, major (fighting), 10:48; Boulton, Atl (holding), 11:14. Shots on Goal—Atlanta 7-10-7—24. Tampa Bay 14-13-9—36. Power-play opportunities—Atlanta 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 6. Goalies—Atlanta, Lehtonen 16-22-5 (36 shots-36 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 15-17-0 (23-22). A—17,441 (19,758). T—2:17. Referees—Stephane Auger, Steve Kozari. Linesmen—Mark Shewchyk, Darren Gibbs.