BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Lightning did not compete in Saturday night's 7-1 loss to the Sabres at HSBC Arena.
Simple as that.
The team is depleted by injuries, and captain Vinny Lecavalier took what coach Rick Tocchet called an "undisciplined, stupid" spearing penalty that got him tossed from the game and cost Tampa Bay two goals.
But wing Marty St. Louis said that did not excuse a general lack of urgency. "I don't think we came ready to play," he said. "From the get-go you could tell we were trying to feel our way through instead of initiating, dictating. You do that against a team like that and night-night."
You could say the same of Tampa Bay's playoff chances, which had gained some life with two straight wins. And the Lightning (30-33-12) still is mathematically in it. But eight points out of the final spot with seven games left and four teams to jump is a roadblock you need a Hummer to get over.
Or at least more players than showed up against Buffalo. Losing Lecavalier 6:35 into the first period when he speared Tim Kennedy and got a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct made it worse.
Not only did the Sabres, who clinched a playoff spot, score twice during the power play to go up 3-0, Tampa Bay was down to 10 forwards. Tocchet had decided to go with 11, instead of the usual 12, and a seventh defenseman to bolster a banged-up blue line.
"It's tough," Lecavalier said. "I put the boys in a bad spot, that's for sure."
Lecavalier admitted he took a "bad penalty," retaliating for an elbow in the back of the head. He also said he simply jabbed Kennedy in the stomach, though Kennedy sold it as if he had been stabbed. Lecavalier said he believed he deserved only a two-minute penalty. "(The referee) saw it as a five, and that kind of changed the game," he said. "I don't think it was the right call."
But NHL rules 62.3 and 62.5 say a major penalty and a game misconduct are mandatory with spearing.
Whatever the details, it was the beginning of the end for the Lightning, which celebrated Steve Downie's 21st goal, the only good moment in a rotten game.
"It's on me," Tocchet said. "I'm obviously not doing a good-enough job if they're not competing. … We're in critical games. You have to take a punch in the mouth. You have to block shots. You've got to backcheck like it's your last shift of the season. You have to go to the net like it's your last shift of the season. Our defense has to box people out like it's the last shift of the season.
"It's embarrassing some guys packed it in."
First Period—1, Buffalo, Gaustad 10 (Rivet, Grier), 2:24. 2, Buffalo, Roy 20 (Ennis, Pominville), 8:02 (pp). 3, Buffalo, Hecht 20 (Myers, Butler), 8:52 (pp). Penalties—Lecavalier, TB, major-misconduct (spearing), 6:35; Lydman, Buf (interference), 18:19.
Second Period—4, Buffalo, Pominville 23 (Tallinder, Roy), 6:57. 5, Buffalo, Roy 21 (Kennedy, Vanek), 9:45. 6, Buffalo, Mair 5 (Ennis, Ellis), 11:16. 7, Tampa Bay, Downie 21 (Lundin), 19:17. Penalties—Gaustad, Buf (cross-checking), 19:59.
Third Period—8, Buffalo, Roy 22 (Pominville), 6:10 (pp). Penalties—Meszaros, TB (cross-checking), 5:16. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 5-9-9—23. Buffalo 8-10-8—26. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Buffalo 3 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 20-17-5 (6 shots-3 saves), Smith (8:53 first, 20-16). Buffalo, Lalime 4-6-2 (23-22). A—18,690 (18,690).