TAMPA — Weird.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher must have used the word a half-dozen times to describe a 7-4 loss to the Sabres on Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Painful might have been more appropriate. Buffalo scored six unanswered goals — five in the third period, including three in 102 seconds and four in 3:13 — to erase a two-goal second-period deficit.
"A tough one to swallow," center Steven Stamkos said. "We lost our composure."
The result: Tampa Bay (33-17-5) missed a chance to increase its three-point lead over the Capitals, losers to the Sharks, in the Southeast Division.
It also lost two players for perhaps a significant amount of time: defenseman Matt Smaby, who was inadvertently kneed in the groin area by Buffalo's Tyler Ennis, and wing Ryan Malone, who strained a stomach muscle when he slid into the net.
Then there was Buffalo tying the score 3-3 on Jordan Leopold's controversial goal 4:26 into the third period with Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson on his back, and no penalty forthcoming, after being tripped by Buffalo's Drew Stafford.
Stafford, though, had just been tripped by Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who was minus-4 in the game and was being called for a delayed penalty that apparently negated the contact with Roloson.
"Whether it's the right call or the wrong call, it's part of the game," Roloson said. "Players make mistakes. Refs make mistakes. To err is human."
"What break did we get?" Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "There was no break; Bergeron pitch-forked (Stafford). It was a good goal from the get-go."
Tim Connolly made it 4-3 with 9:46 left after a turnover by the Lightning's Mattias Ohlund. Thomas Vanek scored. Stafford, who had a hat trick, scored twice to make it 7-3 with 6:33 left.
"We tried to get our goals back too much," Boucher said. "That's not us. When we try to do that and we try to run-and-gun, we lose what has given us our success, and that's defense first."
The shame of it for Tampa Bay was how well it had played. Sean Bergenheim had two goals, and Vinny Lecavalier had two goals and three points. They combined to put the Lightning ahead 3-1 with 8:36 left in the second.
But a defensive-zone giveaway by Brett Clark led to Vanek's goal with 1:50 left that made the score 3-2. "If the period ends 3-1, it's a very different story," Boucher said.
And if Leopold's goal is disallowed? "We deserved a penalty on that guy falling into Roloson," Boucher said. "But it's a weird goal. It falls into all the weirdness that was happening."
First Period—1, TB, Bergenheim 9 (Lecavalier, Clark), 6:36. 2, Buffalo, Stafford 18 (Leopold), 16:43. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (tripping), 1:46; Malone, TB (tripping), 14:54; Myers, Buf (hooking), 15:05.
Second Period—3, TB, Lecavalier 10 (Hedman), 4:58. 4, TB, Bergenheim 10 (Malone), 11:24. 5, Buffalo, Vanek 20 (Weber), 18:10. Penalties—Moore, TB (hooking), :45; Gerbe, Buf (roughing), 5:41; Hecht, Buf (elbowing), 12:01.
Third Period—6, Buffalo, Leopold 11 (Ennis), 4:26. 7, Buffalo, T.Connolly 8 (Ennis), 10:14. 8, Buffalo, Vanek 21 (McCormick), 11:01. 9, Buffalo, Stafford 19 (Morrisonn, Weber), 11:56. 10, Buffalo, Stafford 20 (Leopold, Vanek), 13:27 (pp). 11, TB, Lecavalier 11 (St. Louis, Stamkos), 16:19 (pp). Penalties—T.Connolly, Buf (roughing), 4:26; Downie, TB, minor-misconduct (roughing), 4:26; Stafford, Buf (roughing), 4:43; Hedman, TB (slashing, roughing), 4:43; Leopold, Buf (tripping), 5:56; Bergenheim, TB (high-sticking), 12:32; McCormick, Buf (roughing), 14:23; Bergeron, TB (slashing), 14:23; Stafford, Buf (hooking), 15:17. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 11-5-12—28. TB 13-11-10—34. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 1 of 6; TB 1 of 5. Goalies—Buffalo, Miller 23-15-4 (34 shots-30 saves). TB, Roloson 14-18-1 (28-21). A—14,444 (19,758). Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Brad Watson. Linesmen—Pierre Champoux, Scott Driscoll.