TAMPA — There was silence for a significant amount of time in the Lightning locker room.
Right wing Marty St. Louis, still in uniform, reclined on the hard wooden seat with a towel across his chest. Goaltender Mike Smith draped a towel over his head and dropped his head into his hands, not for a few seconds but for minutes.
Such was the aftermath of Saturday night's 4-3 loss to the Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum, a defeat so deflating it sucked the life out of the players.
"It's hard," St. Louis said. "Sometimes you feel you deserve better, but maybe we don't, you know?
"It's draining. It's draining physically, it's draining mentally. You lose a couple games sometimes, it's easy to flip the switch. Now, it's getting harder and harder to flip the switch. It's almost like a lingering feeling."
Tampa Bay (6-12-8) overcame three one-goal deficits on tallies by St. Louis, Paul Ranger and Vinny Prospal. It fought three times, with captain Vinny Lecavalier getting popped pretty good by a Jochen Hecht right.
Didn't matter. The team, on a 0-5-2 streak and loser of seven straight to Buffalo at the Times Forum, fell to 4-13 in one-goal games and, with 20 points, last in the league.
It was 0-for-6 on the power play, outshot 27-23 and could not handle a Sabres surge that included the first 10 shots of the third period. Derek Roy scored on the ninth to break a 3-3 tie with 9:57 remaining.
That from a team that entered on a 3-9-1 streak in which it had scored just 24 goals.
"I don't know what to say any more," Smith said. "It seems like we're talking about the same stuff every game after losses. It's getting old really fast. Yeah, we played with intensity. We battled. Guys stepped up to the plate. But what it comes down to is we're not winning hockey games, and that's why we play. It hurts really bad."
Wing Ryan Malone missed the game with a previously undisclosed upper body injury.
The consequence was the reunited line of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Prospal had six points. That included two Lecavalier assists, St. Louis' second goal in as many games and Prospal's backhand tally that deflected in off the back of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller to tie the score 3-3 with 4:40 left in the second.
But when defenseman Steve Eminger and wing Paul Szczechura lost track of Roy in the slot, the Sabres center had enough time to turn and fire a shot past Smith for the winner.
Tampa Bay outshot Buffalo 8-1 the rest of the way, but the damage was done.
"It seems any time a team puts a run on us, it seems like certain individuals get panicky," coach Rick Tocchet said. "Instead of seizing the moment, we're retreating. I don't think people are consciously doing it. It's just learning how to win."
That, Tocchet said, continues today: "I judge people the way they react after down periods or mistakes. That's what we're looking for now. We've got to show up and go to work."
And forget another edition of what St. Louis called Groundhog Day.
"One-goal losses, we come back, tie a game, the other team scores mid third period. Yeah," Tocchet said, "it's Groundhog Day."
First Period—1, Buffalo, Stafford 4 (Gaustad), 10:02. 2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 7 (Lecavalier, Krajicek), 13:05. Penalties—Pominville, Buf (interference), 3:35; Krajicek, TB (tripping), 6:09; Gerbe, Buf (hooking), 7:42; Gaustad, Buf, major (fighting), 16:46; Smolenak, TB, major (fighting), 16:46; Mair, Buf, major (fighting), 17:53; Downie, TB, major (fighting), 17:53.
Second Period—3, Buffalo, Vanek 19 (Roy, Stafford), 9:46. 4, Tampa Bay, Ranger 2 (Lecavalier, Prospal), 10:21. 5, Buffalo, Hecht 3 (Mair, Lydman), 14:41. 6, Tampa Bay, Prospal 6 (Malik, St. Louis), 15:20. Penalties—Hecht, Buf (hooking), :50; Smaby, TB (tripping), 4:08; Eminger, TB (hooking), 12:33; Ranger, TB (hooking), 16:31; Gaustad, Buf (boarding), 17:34; Eminger, TB (roughing), 17:34; Roy, Buf (delay of game), 17:57; Hecht, Buf, major (fighting), 19:22; Lecavalier, TB, major (fighting), 19:22.
Third Period—7, Buffalo, Roy 7 (Numminen, Stafford), 10:03. Penalties—Szczechura, TB (hooking), 1:36; Mair, Buf (holding), 7:24; Krajicek, TB (boarding), 11:30; Hecht, Buf (high-sticking), 14:17. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 9-7-11—27. Tampa Bay 9-6-8—23. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 6; Tampa Bay 0 of 6. Goalies—Buffalo, Miller 11-7-2 (23 shots-20 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 5-8-7 (27-23). A—17,154 (19,758).