RALEIGH, N.C. — Rick Tocchet said his debut Sunday as interim Lightning coach felt a little "surreal."
He just wished it would have been more successful.
Two days after taking over for fired Barry Melrose, Tocchet said he saw some "baby steps" of improvement in the inconsistent play and effort the club showed in the first 16 games.
Lighting players said Tocchet's shorter shifts (30-40 seconds) made them stronger in the third period, when they held Carolina to one shot. They said they believed they played together, and with more structure, and, Marty St. Louis said, "stuck together through a tough time."
But that didn't ease the sting from a familiar result, a 3-2 shootout loss to the struggling Hurricanes in front of 13,871 at RBC Center. It was Tampa Bay's fourth straight loss and third in four shootouts this season.
"We came out with a lot of energy and played a very good game," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "I felt we could have put it away."
As it has many times this season, the Lightning (5-7-5) was outshot, though just 30-28, and was saved in part by spectacular saves from goaltender Mike Smith.
Players left the arena lamenting scoring chances they couldn't convert. The Lightning was 1-for-6 on the power play, and three shots hit the post, including Jussi Jokinen's shootout attempt. They pointed to a big missed opportunity to put the game away: a 4-on-3 power play in overtime in which they had a man advantage for nearly two minutes.
Tocchet's plan of a more aggressive forecheck was stymied early; the Lightning was forced to play short-handed three times in the first nine minutes. Smith kept the Lightning in the game, stopping the Hurricanes on several scoring chances from point-blank range in making 12 first-period saves.
But it was the Lightning that struck first, on an odd-man rush midway through the first period. Radim Vrbata came out of the penalty box, collected a loose puck and sent a pass between two Hurricanes to St. Louis, whose wrist shot beat goalie Cam Ward.
Lecavalier made it 2-0 in the second period after the puck inadvertently hit him on the skate after he popped over the bench on a line change. Lecavalier took advantage, taking a pass from Mark Recchi and ripping a one-timer from a tough angle from the right circle past Ward.
Tocchet said his club had a little "lapse" in the second, when the Hurricanes scored two goals in 78 seconds.
On the first one, Brandon Sutter sent the puck toward the net from the right boards, and after Smith allowed a rebound, Wade Brookbank pounced on the puck, spun around and wristed a shot past Smith.
"You need the guy to get that puck out, that guy that blocks the shot to get the puck out to stop the momentum," Tocchet said of how to stop the lapses. "We'll get better at that."
In the shootout, Tuomo Ruutu and Rod Brind'Amour scored for the Hurricanes. Ward stopped Lecavalier and Jokinen.
Tocchet said he'll continue to stress attacking the net, his "No. 1 priority," and working with special teams.
But he thought the Lightning took over the game after giving up the lead in the second, outchancing the Hurricanes 5-0 in the third period.
"I think they're starting to get what we're trying to do here, but this is a first game," Tocchet said. "It's going to be a process."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
|Hurricanes win shootout 2-0|
|Hurricanes win shootout 2-0|
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 4 (Vrbata), 11:20. Penalties—Krajicek, TB (hooking), 2:20; Brind'Amour, Car (hooking), 3:35; Artyukhin, TB (hooking), 7:07; Vrbata, TB (slashing), 9:09; Wallin, Car (hooking), 11:53.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 7 (Recchi, Eminger), 4:09 (pp). 3, Carolina, Brookbank 1 (Sutter, Pitkanen), 14:19. 4, Carolina, Brind'Amour 7 (Walker, Wallin), 15:37. Penalties—Vrbata, TB (hooking), 2:05; Carolina bench, served by Samsonov (too many men), 3:18.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Gratton, TB (hooking), 3:23; LaRose, Car (hooking), 5:55; Walker, Car (hooking), 10:32; Carolina bench, served by Brookbank (too many men), 19:45.
Shootout—Tampa Bay 0 (Lecavalier NG, Jokinen NG), Carolina 2 (Ruutu G, Brind'Amour G). Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-11-8-2—28. Carolina 12-14-1-3—30. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 6; Carolina 0 of 5. Goalies—Tampa Bay, M.Smith 4-4-4 (30 shots-28 saves). Carolina, C.Ward 5-5-2 (28-26). A—13,781 (18,680).