TAMPA — It should not have been a surprise the Lightning was smoked 7-3 by the Sabres Monday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Tampa Bay was without eight regulars because of injuries, its lineup included seven who played in the minors this season and the Sabres are a motivated bunch that smells the playoffs.
What was a surprise was the seeming lack of fight from a team that has a deserved reputation as one that doesn't quit.
"We didn't show up. We didn't battle," defenseman Bruno Gervais said. "We need to get better. We need to take some pride and bounce back for the next game."
"You've got to respect the game," wing Marty St. Louis said. "When it's game time, you come to play."
The Sabres did and the win added to their 15-5-5 streak that has them two points from the final playoff spot in the East.
The Lightning (32-33-7), losers of six of seven games, solidified its position at the bottom of the Southeast Division and remained two points from the bottom of the conference.
That can't be easy for players to wrap their heads around, especially after being a game from last season's Stanley Cup final.
Gervais, though, called that and talk of injuries "easy excuses."
The Lightning got contributions from Gervais and Ryan Malone, who had a goal and assist each; and Trevor Smith, who scored his first goal of the season.
But Tampa Bay, outshot 38-27, allowed the Sabres way too much time to make plays, and defensive breakdowns led to numerous goals.
Goaltender Dustin Tokarski was pulled from his second straight start 8:16 into the second period after allowing four goals on 15 shots but was hung out to dry by his teammates.
Particularly consequential were defensive zone turnovers by Brendan Mikkelson and Gervais which led to first-period goals by Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville for a 2-0 Buffalo lead.
"It felt like we gave it to them," Gervais said. "We didn't make them earn it."
It was just as bad during Buffalo's four-goal second period for a 6-2 lead as turnovers and defensive breakdowns were the fuel the Sabres needed.
"That's what you get," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Guys are trying hard and the American League guys are doing everything they can and our top guys have been pushing for so long, it's tough to ask for a perfect game when guys are put in slots they've never been in."
But it's not too much to ask for a competitive effort.
"It's about respecting the people who pay for a ticket," Boucher said.
"We owe it to one another," St. Louis said, "to not give in and play hard."
First—1, Buffalo, Stafford 15 (Ehrhoff), 11:31. 2, Buffalo, Pominville 26 (Hodgson, Vanek), 15:50 (pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB (holding), 15:10.
Second—3, Buffalo, Foligno 4 (Ennis, Stafford), 1:09. 4, Tampa Bay, Gervais 5 (Purcell), 7:12. 5, Buffalo, Tropp 3 (Vanek, Hodgson), 8:16. 6, Tampa Bay, Smith 1 (Malone, Gervais), 14:14. 7, Buffalo, Foligno 5 (Stafford, Ennis), 16:22 (pp). 8, Buffalo, Boyes 6 (McCormick, Sulzer), 17:00. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (high-sticking), 10:12; Connolly, TB (tripping), 15:49; Regehr, Buf (hooking), 17:11.
Third—9, Buffalo, Pominville 27, :17. 10, Tampa Bay, Malone 14 (Brewer), 14:57. Penalties—Segal, TB (high-sticking), 4:22; Sekera, Buf (interference), 6:10. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 9-18-11—38. Tampa Bay 6-9-12—27. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 2 of 4; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—Buffalo, Miller 26-18-7 (27 shots-24 saves). Tampa Bay, Tokarski 1-3-1 (15-11), Roloson (8:16 second, 23-20). A—17,212 (19,204). T—2:28.