TAMPA — Really, can anything else happen?
The Lightning lost 3-2 to the Hurricanes on Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum and might have lost another defenseman to injury.
Andrej Meszaros needed 64 stitches to close a bloody gash under his nose from Anton Babchuk's slap shot that accelerated when it was deflected by the stick blade of Ryan Malone.
Said coach Rick Tocchet: "It's pretty ugly."
In case you're counting, that's four veteran defenseman hurt, including Paul Ranger (upper body), Lukas Krajicek (fingers) and Jamie Heward (concussion).
If Meszaros can't go today at Atlanta, Tampa Bay may go with five defensemen or try to use Krajicek. "I won't know till (today) if Luke can play," Tocchet said.
We do know Tampa Bay (10-18-10) fell to 5-17 in one-goal games. It was outshot 28-19, with only nine shots the last two periods. The culprit: little plays not made.
Up 2-0 in the first 6:41 on goals by Ryan Craig and Vinny Prospal, the Lightning gave away the momentum when defenseman Steve Eminger was called for interference and Justin Williams scored on the power play.
Seventy-one seconds later, with 4:03 left, Chad LaRose scored on Dennis Seidenberg's shot from the point that deflected off LaRose's leg. Joni Pitkanen's winner from the point, 6:21 into the third, beat goaltender Mike Smith to the long side.
Right wing Marty St. Louis provided the critique.
On Eminger's penalty: "You've got to stay out of the penalty box at that time. You don't want to give them a chance to get back in the game."
On goals from two point shots: "Their equalizer, we have to somehow block that shot. Their game winner, we got to block that shot. We got to make it harder on the defense to take shots from the point."
Meszaros, who was averaging 24:28 of ice time, was bloodied with 20 seconds left in the second by Babchuk, a former AHL hardest-shot contest winner.
Not that rookies Matt Smaby, 24; Vladimir Mihalik, 21; and Ty Wishart, 20, who made his NHL debut, were liabilities. "I thought the kids did a great job," Tocchet said. "It's just a tough situation."
It won't get easier if Tampa Bay, with not much left on the farm, plays with either five blue-liners or Krajicek in a limited role. Then again, Meszaros might play. He was supposed to return Saturday, but the team said the stitches weren't finished.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Craig 1 (Hall, Pettinger), 5:05. 2, Tampa Bay, Prospal 8 (Lecavalier), 6:41. 3, Carolina, Williams 2 (Brind'Amour, Seidenberg), 14:46 (pp). 4, Carolina, LaRose 9 (Seidenberg, Pitkanen), 15:57. Penalties—Cullen, Car (interference), 2:41; Pitkanen, Car (holding), 9:25; Eminger, TB (interference), 13:02.
Second Period—5, Carolina, Pitkanen 4 (Williams, Whitney), 6:21. Penalties—Mihalik, TB (elbowing), 1:46; Meszaros, TB (roughing), 17:25.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Prospal, TB (high-sticking), 7:00; Williams, Car (goalie interference), 7:35; Smaby, TB (elbowing), 13:42. Shots on Goal—Carolina 12-10-6—28. Tampa Bay 10-5-4—19. Power-play opportunities—Carolina 1 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Carolina, Ward 15-9-3 (19 shots-17 saves). Tampa Bay, Smith 8-14-9 (28-25). A—15,873 (19,758).