RALEIGH, N.C. — Mike Smith did his job Saturday night against the Hurricanes.
The Lightning goaltender made 24 saves. He lunged, he sprawled. His right-leg save in the third period on Brandon Sutter's backhand from point-blank range was a thing of beauty.
"Unbelievable," center Jeff Halpern said. "Making that save gave us a chance to win. We just didn't put enough effort in front of him to get the job done."
And that is why the 3-1 loss at the RBC Center was so disappointing.
Tampa Bay (8-5-7) was outshot for the 10th straight game. It lost a 4-0-3 streak and fell for the first time in regulation since Nov. 2 in Philadelphia.
But more important, to coach Rick Tocchet it didn't seem like everyone came to play. "I'm disappointed," he said. "A couple of our top guys did not show up."
Tocchet did not mention names, but consider:
Captain Vinny Lecavalier was invisible below the hash marks. Wing Alex Tanguay had zero shots. Center Steven Stamkos had one. And though left wing Ryan Malone had 10 hits, he also had just one shot.
The best line: Halpern with Steve Downie and James Wright.
"Steve Downie was probably our best forward tonight," Tocchet said. "He had some tenacity. He tried."
Right wing Marty St. Louis scored his fifth goal with 4:42 left in the first period for a 1-0 lead. After that, though, it was all Carolina, which outshot Tampa Bay 27-21 and at one point in the second period led in shots 20-10.
"We have to get the puck quicker out of our zone," Tanguay said. "Sometimes we can't break out right away or mess up in the neutral zone."
"Once the puck goes into our end, we have to work like crazy to get to spots to make clean breakouts," Halpern said. "When we start dogging it to get to those spots, we end up spending 30 seconds in our own end."
As for the effort in the offensive zone, Tocchet said, "We're still a perimeter hockey club. A couple of our top guys didn't show up through the middle."
Perhaps it is fatigue. Tampa Bay finishes a four-game cross-country road trip today in Atlanta.
There is some anxiety, too.
"We're all squeezing our stick a little harder," Tanguay said.
Bottom line: The team is putting too much pressure on its goaltenders, who have covered up for a consistent lack of offensive pressure.
"We have to clean up a lot of areas on the ice in order for this team to continue to win and have success," Smith said. "You can get by for a little while, but sooner or later, it's going to bite you."
Like it did against Carolina.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 5 (Foster, Lecavalier), 15:18 (pp). Penalties—A.Ward, Car (holding), 9:48; Kostopoulos, Car (tripping), 14:30.
Second Period—2, Carolina, Ruutu 6 (Whitney, Pitkanen), 2:35 (pp). 3, Carolina, Jokinen 6 (Corvo, LaRose), 13:46. Penalties—Malone, TB (interference), 1:04; LaRose, Car (holding), 3:38; Foster, TB (cross-checking), 6:38; Cole, Car (interference), 18:35.
Third Period—4, Carolina, LaRose 1 (Samsonov, Corvo), 15:37. Penalties—Krajicek, TB (interference), 5:04; Krajicek, TB (holding), 10:25; St. Louis, TB (tripping), 19:21. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-5-7—21. Carolina 10-10-7—27. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 4; Carolina 1 of 5. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 3-4-4 (27 shots-24 saves). Carolina, Legace 2-1-2 (21-20). A—13,224 (18,680). T—2:21. Referees—Greg Kimmerly, Chris Lee. Linesmen—Scott Driscoll, Andy McElman.