TAMPA — The story around the Lightning locker room Tuesday night was that Paul Ranger's shot toward an open net with about three seconds left in overtime was stopped by the head of a sprawling Panthers player.
As it turned out, the shot hit the glove of defenseman Keith Ballard.
That after Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun stick-checked the puck from a hard-charging Vinny Prospal with six seconds remaining and Mark Recchi's last-second shot was deflected wide by a stick.
"It just sums up the way it's going right now," Prospal said.
The 4-3 shootout loss at the St. Pete Times Forum indeed was frustrating. It was new coach Rick Tocchet's second straight shootout loss and pushed the team's streak without a victory to 0-3-2.
But Tampa Bay (5-7-6) deserved better.
"There were so many good things," Tocchet said.
Such as a team-record 52 shots, including a season-best 21 in the second period, erasing a three-goal second-period deficit and scoring twice in the third with defenseman Steve Eminger sending the game to overtime with 2:51 left.
Eminger, acquired Oct. 21 off waivers from the Canucks, had a breakout effort with his second goal in as many games, two assists and a plus-3 rating.
Evgeny Artyukhin score his first goal early in the third to make the score 3-2 with an assist from Vinny Lecavalier, who created space behind the goal line by passing to himself off the base of the Panthers net, totally befuddling Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
Radim Vrbata began the comeback with 5:18 left in the second with his first goal to snap a 33-game streak without one dating to last season with the Coyotes.
Perhaps most encouraging, though, was rookie Steven Stamkos, who alternated at wing and center on a line with Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, played a career-high 17:55 and whose nine shots were most by a Lightning player this season.
"Some guys don't get that in a month," Tocchet said.
"I felt like I was in the game," Stamkos said. "I had a ton of shots and felt great."
So did the team, he said.
"We dominated them tonight, outshot them and outplayed them in their end. When you're not winning, these games slip by you."
Three problems: a porous penalty kill, a strange ineptitude in shootouts and two goals by Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe, who has three goals this season, all against the Lightning.
Florida entered with the league's second-worst power play but had two goals with the extra man. Tampa Bay has let in six of 21 chances in its past four games.
"We have to start boxing out a little better," Tocchet said. "The defense has to start taking sticks."
As for the 1-0 loss in the shootout, Lecavalier, Jussi Jokinen and St. Louis failed. Nathan Horton beat goalie Mike Smith to drop Tampa Bay to 1-4 in shootouts and 2-6 in overtime overall.
"It's probably our fault," Tocchet said. "We have not practiced penalty shots much this year. It's on my list, trust me, on the top."
But there was nothing to be done about Vokoun, who was spectacular with 49 saves.
"It seems like we just have a little bit of a cloud over our head," Tocchet said, "a couple of tough breaks against us."
And Ballard's head, er, glove, in the way.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]
|Panthers win shootout 1-0|
First Period—1, Florida, McCabe 2 (Campbell, Dvorak), 7:50. 2, Florida, Booth 8 (Zednik, Weiss), 19:43 (pp). Penalties—Tampa Bay bench, TB, served by Artyukhin (too many men), 3:05; Lecavalier, TB (holding), 14:33; Ranger, TB (tripping), 18:24.
Second Period—3, Florida, McCabe 3 (Horton, Bouwmeester), 7:48 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Vrbata 1 (Eminger, Stamkos), 14:42. Penalties—Bouwmeester, Fla (hooking), 1:15; Eminger, TB (hooking), 6:35.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Artyukhin 1 (Lecavalier, Eminger), 3:44. 6, Tampa Bay, Eminger 1 (Artyukhin, Jokinen), 17:09. Penalties—Campbell, Fla (boarding), :22; Krajicek, TB (slashing), 4:51.
Shootout—Florida 1 (Weiss NG, Horton G), Tampa Bay 0 (Lecavalier NG, Jokinen NG, Jokinen NG). Shots on Goal—Florida 11-10-12-3—36. Tampa Bay 16-21-13-2—52. Power-play opportunities—Florida 2 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—Florida, Vokoun 4-8-0 (52 shots-49 saves). Tampa Bay, M.Smith 4-4-5 (36-33). A—16,176 (19,758). T—2:32. Referees—Dan O'Halloran, Frederick L'Ecuyer. Linesmen—Michel Cormier, Brad Kovachik.