TAMPA — Lightning goaltender Dustin Tokarski was not far off the post in the third period of Saturday night's game with the Hurricanes.
A few inches, perhaps, at most.
But that was far enough to be the mistake that led to the winning goal in Tampa Bay's 4-2 loss at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"I have to be over there," Tokarski said. "I have to make myself big and hug that post. Game-winning goal, it can't happen."
To be fair, Jeff Skinner's second goal of the game that broke a 2-2 tie 6:36 into the final period came on a terrific shot after he held the puck while beating defenseman Victor Hedman on a swing around the net.
"A goal-scorer's goal," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher called it.
Tokarski agreed that Skinner, last season's rookie of the year, is "a heck of a player," but added, "You need a goalie to make a save there, and who knows? Maybe we get a break later on."
It was a costly loss for Tampa Bay (31-30-7), which also allowed an empty-net goal in its third straight loss while falling five points behind the victorious Capitals for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It remained six points behind the Southeast Division-leading Panthers.
It also was a dispiriting way to begin what is supposed to be a season-defining seven-game homestand. Finally, it was a stark reminder of what it is like to have an established No. 1 goaltender who not only makes a lot of saves but makes them at the most important times.
Ryan Malone and Nate Thompson scored for the Lightning in a first period that ended 2-2, but Carolina's Cam Ward was dazzling. He made 36 saves as the Lightning had a 38-26 shot advantage, including 18-9 in the second period.
The Hurricanes had an advantage as well on the power play, in that it scored on its one chance. Tampa Bay was 0-for-2 with zero shots.
"Our power play has to get us one, no doubt," wing Marty St. Louis said. "We just couldn't get it done. Their power play gets one. We have to match that and more."
Still, Boucher said, "If you play like (we did) over a long span of games you're going to get more than your share. That's what we have to keep on doing."
Skinner is making a career against the Lightning with eight goals in 10 career games. Before he even shot the puck, he protected it against Hedman's long reach.
"The play earlier, he cut to the middle, so I had to watch that," said Tokarski, who had no recurrence of the dehydration that plagued him in his first NHL start, Thursday in Washington.
It's not that Tokarski, 22, played poorly while making 22 saves.
"I thought he played pretty well," St. Louis said.
In his second career start, he just needed one more save.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Malone 13 (Pyatt, Connolly), 1:20. 2, Carolina, Spacek 5 (McBain, Jokinen), 3:46 (pp). 3, Carolina, Skinner 18 (Jokinen, LaRose), 12:29. 4, Tampa Bay, Thompson 8 (Wyman, Hall), 17:14. Penalties—Wallace, TB (interference), 2:38.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Skinner, Car (cross-checking), 1:16; Hedman, TB (cross-checking), 1:16; Allen, Car (interference), 19:16.
Third Period—5, Carolina, Skinner 19 (Allen), 6:36. 6, Carolina, LaRose 14 (Harrison, Faulk), 19:38 (en). Penalties—E.Staal, Car (tripping), 8:05; Skinner, Car, misconduct, 19:38; Dwyer, Car (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:57; Hedman, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:57. Shots on Goal—Carolina 9-9-8—26. Tampa Bay 11-18-9—38. Power-play opportunities—Carolina 1 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—Carolina, Ward 24-19-12 (38 shots-36 saves). Tampa Bay, Tokarski 0-1-1 (25-22). A—18,554 (19,204). T—2:23. Referees—Rob Martell, Wes McCauley. Linesmen—Steve Barton, Shane Heyer.