UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Lightning got some clarity Saturday night.
With its 3-1 loss to the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, Tampa Bay ensured it will finish no better than 28th in the 30-team league. It also is in a three-way battle for the bottom. That is not something about which defenseman Matt Smaby is happy.
"I want to be as far from last place as possible," he said. "It's almost embarrassing to finish last, and I don't think any of us wants to do that. What do we have, three games left? We want six points and to be ahead of those guys just to prove we're not the last team in the league."
So here's the setup: Tampa Bay (24-37-18), loser of six straight and nine of 10, has 66 points, Colorado 64 and the Islanders 61. It has three games left, the Avalanche five, the Islanders four.
The loser — or is that winner? — of this struggle gets the best chance in the draft lottery of obtaining the No. 1 pick. Left wing Matt Pettinger, who scored Tampa Bay's only goal, said the odds don't affect the players:
"I can't speak for people outside of the dressing room. I'd hope they'd have the same opinions we would. Your goal in life and in hockey is to get better every day. To take a losing mentality into it, saying, 'Let's not get these points,' that's not how you breed winning."
What an odd game.
With 19 players combined out with injuries, 21 of the 40 dressed played in the AHL this season, 11 for Norfolk, 10 for Bridgeport.
"The Norfolk Lightning against the Bridgeport Islanders, I guess," said Tampa Bay goaltender Mike McKenna, one of the callups.
Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said the circumstances at least gave players a chance to prove themselves. "One thing some guys can say this summer is they had their shot in the NHL, whether they play three or four games, whether they play 20 or 30," he said. "I don't think anybody can complain."
McKenna complained about allowing Richard Park's goal 23 seconds into the game on a turnaround shot from in close; that was after a terrible giveaway by defenseman Vladimir Mihalik.
"I felt like I gave the game away," McKenna said. "I made a technical error, and I got caught in between making save selections. You can't spot a team a lead that early."
Add it to the list of things gone wrong in a season that could end with a second straight 30th-place finish. "At this point," Tocchet said, "whether you're second-to-last or last, it's awful either way."
First Period—1, N.Y. Islanders, Park 14 (Joensuu), :23. Penalties—Koci, TB, major-misconduct (fighting), 4:55; Fritz, NYI, major (fighting), 4:55; Martinek, NYI (hooking), 5:38; Hall, TB (hooking), 17:37.
Second Period—2, N.Y. Islanders, Martinek 5 (Gervais, Joensuu), 14:52 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Pettinger 6 (Karsums), 16:38 (pp). Penalties—Karsums, TB (hooking), 6:21; Szczechura, TB (high-sticking), 13:01; Konopka, TB, major (fighting), 14:59; Rechlicz, NYI, served by Iggulden, minor-major (charging, fighting), 14:59; Hillen, NYI (high-sticking), 17:26.
Third Period—4, N.Y. Islanders, Bailey 7 (Comeau, Gervais), 9:14 (pp). Penalties—Smaby, TB (hooking), 8:54; Karsums, TB, double minor (roughing), 13:52; Witt, NYI (roughing), 13:52. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 6-12-12—30. N.Y. Islanders 7-10-4—21. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 3; N.Y. Islanders 2 of 5. Goalies—Tampa Bay, McKenna 4-7-1 (21 shots-18 saves). N.Y. Islanders, Danis 10-14-3 (30-29). A—12,809 (16,234).