SUNRISE — Lightning coach Rick Tocchet was hoping for some more "heartbeats" from his team Saturday, coming off one of its most frustrating losses of the season two days earlier against the Panthers.
Instead, Florida handed Tampa Bay more heartbreak in a 5-2 loss at the BankAtlantic Center. The Lightning brought more effort and more fight, and racked up more shots than Florida, peppering Tomas Vokoun with 49.
But goalie Antero Niittymaki put it simply: "We needed a better goalie tonight."
Niittymaki gave up five goals on 18 shots, including three on the first eight he saw, and shouldered the blame for the loss.
"I thought we were dominating them. Too bad we had a pretty bad goalie tonight," Niittymaki said. "I just couldn't stop the puck. That's why we lost. It's that simple. It was an embarrassing performance."
At a point in the season where the Lightning is fighting for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, a second straight defeat to its Southeast Division rival took away momentum derived from back-to-back wins last week over the East's top two teams, the Devils and Capitals.
"It's January, it's a playoff-type game that we needed to win," defenseman Kurtis Foster said. "So we're disappointed we didn't get the W.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of guys pretty upset on the flight (Saturday night)."
Tampa Bay showed fight in the first period, when it outshot the Panthers 20-8 and battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the score, but it trailed by a goal heading into the second.
Wing Alex Tanguay scored midway through the first off a pass by center Vinny Lecavalier on an odd-man rush, and defenseman Andrej Meszaros added a power-play goal on a slap shot from the point for the tie. But the Panthers scored three straight to put Tampa Bay (18-19-10) away.
"They capitalized on their chances," center Steven Stamkos said.
Tocchet said his team made some "critical mistakes" on the penalty kill, and it cost them. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay couldn't crack Vokoun, who made 47 saves. Said Foster: "He stood on his head."
Niittymaki was pulled for the third period, replaced by Dustin Tokarski, who made his NHL debut after being called up from AHL Norfolk last week. Tokarski made five saves and didn't allow a goal.
With the loss, the Lightning fell to 13th in the 15-team East.
"I don't know what to say," Niittymaki said. "It was one of the worst games I've played for a while, in the past couple years. And it was not at a good time."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
First Period—1, Florida, Stillman 8 (Reinprecht, Ballard), 4:07 (pp). 2, Florida, Stillman 9 (Ballard), 10:28. 3, Tampa Bay, Tanguay 7 (Lecavalier), 11:44. 4, Tampa Bay, Meszaros 4 (Halpern, Lecavalier), 16:31 (pp). 5, Florida, Allen 3 (Stillman, Dvorak), 17:03. Penalties—Ohlund, TB (slashing), 2:53; Horton, Fla (hooking), 5:59; McCabe, Fla (roughing), 15:21.
Second Period—6, Florida, Olesz 12 (Campbell, Moore), 5:02. 7, Florida, Olesz 13 (Ballard, Leopold), 12:36 (pp). Penalties—Lundin, TB (slashing), 8:03; Foster, TB (holding), 10:45; Garrison, Fla (high-sticking), 14:43.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Moore, Fla (delay of game), 3:48. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 20-8-21—49. Florida 8-10-5—23. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 4; Florida 2 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 8-8-4 (18 shots-13 saves), Tokarski (0:00 third, 5-5). Florida, Vokoun 15-14-8 (49-47). A—15,971 (19,250).