PITTSBURGH — The Lightning just can't get out from under that cloud.
As if Thursday night's 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Mellon Arena wasn't enough — Tampa Bay's first loss here in eight games, by the way — the team lost a key player to injury for the second straight game.
Center Jeff Halpern, so good since coming from the Stars in the Brad Richards trade, played one shift before leaving with an abdominal strain. Defenseman Paul Ranger likely was lost for the season Wednesday with a shoulder injury.
"It's tough," center Vinny Lecavalier said.
"It's been like that the whole year. A lot of guys have been hurt."
And stop us if you've heard this one before; the Lightning (29-37-8) had third-period issues.
One day after the Sabres scored six goals in the third, including two in 16 seconds, in a 7-4 win, Pittsburgh scored two in — you guessed it — 16 seconds to turn a 2-1 lead into a 4-1 advantage 51 seconds into the period.
That Tampa Bay didn't disintegrate as it did against Buffalo was progress. Defenseman Filip Kuba even scored his fourth goal, and first in 41 games, to close the gap to two.
Lecavalier scored the other, his 40th, to become the first Lightning player to do that twice.
But Lecavalier said he could not enjoy the milestone, his 89th point and 599th of his career.
"You don't make the playoffs," he said, "it's definitely not as gratifying."
Tampa Bay did all right through two periods against one of the East's best. It trailed 2-1 but held Pittsburgh to six shots in the second period and held a 14-12 shot advantage.
But goaltender Mike Smith began the sequence that ended with Jordan Staal's goal 35 seconds into the third period by mishandling the puck in front of the net; though defenseman Dan Boyle also was somewhat turned around. Smith whiffed on Petr Sykora's goal 16 seconds later.
"We played extremely well in the third period, the hockey that we're capable of playing," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
For the Lightning, Thursday was a continuation of a season-long misery.
The team has lost 175 man-games to injury, its most since losing 258 in 2001-02, the last time Tampa Bay did not make the playoffs.
And that doesn't include 74 missed by captain Tim Taylor, who is on the nonroster injured list.
"We have a lot of adversity right now," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "A lot of guys are banged up."
Still, he said, "I think we played hard. I feel we pushed."
That cloud is just too dark and too big.
First Period—1, Pittsburgh, Ruutu 4 (Orpik, Talbot), 14:20. Penalties—Whitney, Pit (holding), 10:40; Boyle, TB (high-sticking), 14:20.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 40 (Jokinen, Kuba), 4:18 (pp). 3, Pittsburgh, Malkin 42 (Whitney), 10:05. Penalties—Dupuis, Pit (hooking), :49; Ruutu, Pit (boarding), 3:51.
Third Period—4, Pittsburgh, Staal 12 (Dupuis), :35. 5, Pittsburgh, Sykora 26 (Malkin, Malone), :51. 6, Tampa Bay, Kuba 4 (St. Louis, Jokinen), 1:51 (pp). Penalties—Sykora, Pit (slashing), 1:13; Ruutu, Pit (holding), 5:41; Lundin, TB (interference), 13:19. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-6-7—21. Pittsburgh 8-4-11—23. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 5; Pittsburgh 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 15-15-0 (23 shots-19 saves). Pittsburgh, Fleury 14-9-1 (21-19). A—17,044 (16,940).