TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Andrej Meszaros mulled Saturday night's game with the Wild and came to a conclusion with which most of his teammates probably agreed.
"I think we were the better team than Minnesota," he said. "Sometimes you don't deserve to win, but I think we did."
And that's what made a 1-0 shootout loss at the St. Pete Times Forum so tough to take.
Against a team that stifles with defense, the Lightning held a 32-21 advantage in shots.
Against a team that entered with the league's No. 2 power play, Tampa Bay killed all six short-handed situations, including one in the last six minutes of regulation and one in the last two of overtime.
Against a team that plays a stifling trap system that tries to prevent opponents from gaining the offensive zone, the Lightning buzzed goaltender Niklas Backstrom. And it had 30 hits and 59 total shots, including blocks and misses.
The only thing it couldn't do was score, which means the Lightning (0-2-3) matched the 1998-99 team for most games opening a season without a win. It also marked the first time Tampa Bay has lost three straight overtime games.
"Right now it's frustrating," defenseman Paul Ranger said. "I think we played a great game."
Backstrom, 11-0-4 in his past 16 starts, was better, earning his 10th career shutout and stopping Jussi Jokinen, Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos in the shootout.
Minnesota (4-0), without injured stars Marian Gaborik, Owen Nolan and Pierre-Marc Bouchard needed that kind of effort.
Smith, who gets credit for his seventh shutout, was as impressive and allowed only an Antti Miettinen high backhander in the shootout.
"We played together in Dallas," Miettinen said. "I know him a little bit, so I thought he might try to cover his five hole, so I wanted to try something else."
The Lightning could do little else to beat Backstrom, who made big stops on Lecavalier and Ryan Malone in the third. But he also got help. Eric Belanger sprawled to stop Ranger's shot at an open net with 8:49 left in the third and Chris Gratton's shot at an open net with 10 seconds left.
"Tonight was by far the best game we've played this season," Smith said. "From the D to the forwards, everyone battled hard. Everyone finished checks, did the things you have to do to win games."
Tampa Bay has just eight goals this season. Coach Barry Melrose even benched underachieving wing Radim Vrbata to send a message to his stars to get going.
"What have we given up, (10) goals in five games in regulation?" Melrose said. "If you had told me we'd be doing that and wouldn't be able to score, I'd say you're nuts. So that's a quandary right now."
And a reason for frustration to set in, something Melrose said he will guard against. "You've just got to believe we're going to be rewarded for the effort," he said. "They just have to see the way we played tonight. … We've got to believe if we keep doing that, we're going to win a lot of games. We're being tested right now. We've got to pass the test."
They were, after all, the better team.
|Wild wins shootout 1-0|
|Wild wins shootout 1-0|
First Period—None. Penalties—Koci, TB (holding), 2:37; Koci, TB (interference), 4:47; Koivu, Min (slashing), 5:02; Prospal, TB (hooking), 6:33; Gillies, Min, double minor (high-sticking), 8:54; Sheppard, Min (tripping), 14:40.
Second Period—None. Penalty—Jokinen, TB (high-sticking), 1:20.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Krajicek, TB (interference), 2:42; Malone, TB (tripping), 14:33.
Overtime—None. Penalty—Meszaros, TB (hooking), 3:41.
Shootout—Minnesota 1 (Koivu NG, Miettinen G), Tampa Bay 0 (Jokinen NG, Lecavalier NG, Stamkos NG). Shots on Goal—Minnesota 6-8-4-3—21. Tampa Bay 13-8-10-1—32. Power-play opportunities—Minnesota 0 of 6; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Minnesota, Backstrom 4-0-0 (32 shots-32 saves). Tampa Bay, M.Smith 0-1-2 (21-21). A—15,191 (19,758).