PITTSBURGH — Heads were down. Players sat in sweaty underwear. The locker room was quiet.
The Lightning had been through tough defeats before this season, but none like Wednesday night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins at Mellon Arena.
"It hurts," rookie defenseman Matt Smaby said, "more than any other loss I've been part of this year."
That is because Pittsburgh scored four unanswered goals, three in the third period to overcome a 3-0 deficit and Evgeni Malkin's winner off a scramble in front of the net with 15.5 seconds remaining in the extra period.
Tampa Bay (17-24-11) got a point for the regulation tie. But it was no consolation after a fourth straight loss in which the Lightning found every conceivable way to give away a victory.
The Lightning also lost defenseman Andrej Meszaros in the second period because of what seemed an injured left arm. And it hung out to dry goaltender Mike McKenna, who made 31 saves in his first NHL start but watched his teammates generate only 10 shots after 14 in the first period.
"We lost what we're supposed to do, simple plays," Smaby said. "… You can't give them opportunities like that."
The Lightning led 3-0 after two periods on goals by Ryan Malone, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. But Malkin scored 2:25 into the third, Mark Eaton made it 3-2 with 5:54 left and Petr Sykora tied it with 3:29 left.
Each goal came after a Lightning miscue. The most damaging might have been Gary Roberts' roughing penalty that provided the power play that produced the tying goal.
Roberts played his first game after missing 28 straight and 32 of 33 with a torn elbow tendon. But he lost his cool and punched Pittsburgh agitator Matt Cooke after they jostled and jawed.
"You've got to realize who it is but so should the referee realize who it is," Roberts said. "He's obviously famous for diving, and he never really played with any honor. … He's out there with a visor, chirping it up without any intention of dropping the gloves. I've got no respect for a guy like that."
The bottom line, though, Roberts said, "It was a dumb penalty on my part, heat of the moment, but no excuse up 3-2."
No excuses either for defenseman Paul Ranger, whose cross-ice pass was intercepted and led to Malkin's first goal.
"If I could do it a million times over again, I would go up the wall every time," Ranger said.
Funny, coach Rick Tocchet said, associate coach Mike Sullivan "made a point of saying, 'Boys, no cross-ice passes.' Sometimes the pressure is on and you see stuff that's not there. It's a mistake, but … you have to stay with it."
That is what Smaby believed he was doing when he passed to partner Steve Eminger. But instead of going behind the Lightning net, the puck hit the skate of referee Gord Dwyer and bounced to the Penguins. Seconds later, Eaton scored when his shot deflected off Eminger's skate.
"I thought he could have gotten out of the way," Smaby said of Dwyer. "It's not like I threw a rocket to my partner. It wasn't the one that tied it, but it hurt."
Just like the rest.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Malone 16 (Recchi, Ranger), 15:25. Penalties—Recchi, TB (hooking), 1:28; Orpik, Pit, double minor (high-sticking), 6:38; Stamkos, TB (goaltender interference), 10:34; Murphy, TB (interference), 19:03.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 19 (Lecavalier, Eminger), 5:00. 3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 24 (Prospal, St. Louis), 16:52. Penalties—Tampa Bay bench, served by Prospal (abuse of officials, too many men), 6:53; Smaby, TB (delay of game), 11:12.
Third Period—4, Pittsburgh, Malkin 23 (Dupuis), 2:25. 5, Pittsburgh, Eaton 2 (Sykora), 14:06. 6, Pittsburgh, Sykora 20 (Malkin, Crosby), 16:31 (pp). Penalties—Whitney, Pit (holding stick), 10:45; Roberts, TB (roughing), 14:53.
Overtime—7, Pittsburgh, Malkin 24 (Staal, Orpik), 4:44. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 14-5-3-2—24. Pittsburgh 5-13-12-5—35. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Pittsburgh 1 of 7. Goalies—Tampa Bay, McKenna 0-0-1 (35 shots-31 saves). Pittsburgh, Fleury 17-13-3 (24-21). A—16,977 (16,940). T—2:32. Referees—Gord Dwyer, Dave Jackson. Linesmen—Andy McElman, Tim Nowak.