BUFFALO, N.Y. — Steven Stamkos hit another post Tuesday night. Actually, it was a crossbar, but at this point, does it really make a difference?
The Lightning fell 4-2 to the Sabres at HSBC Arena to lose its five-game winning streak, and coach Guy Boucher bemoaned his team's failure to convert "more scoring chances, more clear, free shots than we had in the past eight games."
"But we missed the net. We've got to take care of that. It's opportunities missed. It's momentum," he said.
He did not single out Stamkos, but the center was pretty much invisible as Tampa Bay (44-25-11) finished a not-bad three-game road trip with two victories but wondered what the heck has happened to its fading star.
Stamkos is second in the league with 44 goals but has just four in 26 games. He had one shot on goal against Buffalo and took three other shots, two of which missed the net.
"It's not really frustrating anymore," said Stamkos, with five shots on goal in his past four games. "It's just finding a way. Hopefully, it happens next game. You just have to keep on being optimistic."
Stamkos needs to just get the puck on net and stop trying for the perfect shot, Boucher said:
"You try to pick corners, you're not going to get many goals. You've got to shoot it on net. If it's not your goal, it's a rebound for someone else, a rebound for yourself. … Hit the net, crash like a maniac. There's no special recipe. When you look for a special recipe, your streak continues."
Stamkos should check out Ryan Malone's tip-in that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 first-period lead. Or how two of Thomas Vanek's three Sabres goals came from in front of the net, or how Tim Connolly's seemingly innocent shot beat Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson off the far post.
"But that's what happens when you're in a scoring slump," Boucher said. "You have a tendency to hold your stick tighter and want to pick corners. Once he hits the net, he's going to get more opportunities. But he shoots 2 feet over the net all the time."
Tuesday's loss wasn't all on Stamkos. Defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Marc-Andre Bergeron had rough nights. And Marty St. Louis' turnover as Roloson tried to get to the bench for an extra skater led to Vanek's hat-trick goal.
But Stamkos' drought is now epic.
"He's just got to shoot," said Vinny Lecavalier, who played with a visor to protect his injured right eye and scored his 22nd goal. "He hasn't forgotten how to score."
"You just keep shooting," Stamkos said. "It's bound to go in. You just hope it turns around heading into the playoffs."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Malone 13 (Lundin), 13:53. 2, Buffalo, Vanek 29 (Pominville, T.Connolly), 16:45 (pp). Penalties—Tyrell, TB (interference), 15:16; Lundin, TB (delay of game), 15:29.
Second Period—3, Buffalo, Vanek 30 (Pominville, T.Connolly), 8:00. 4, Buffalo, T.Connolly 13 (Montador, Stafford), 13:46. Penalties—Malone, TB, major (fighting), 4:30; Weber, Buf, major (fighting), 4:30; Myers, Buf (cross-checking), 5:04; Lecavalier, TB (interference), 5:23; Butler, Buf (slashing), 11:25.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 22 (St. Louis, Purcell), :17. 6, Buffalo, Vanek 31, 19:46. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-8-8—25. Buffalo 10-6-8—24. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Buffalo 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Roloson 23-25-5 (24 shots-20 saves). Buffalo, Enroth 8-2-2 (25-23).