The Tampa Bay Lightning's quest for a playoff spot is not dead yet. But _ to borrow a phrase from Detroit's assistant general manager Doug MacLean _ "Dr. Kevorkian is lurking in the background."
Sunday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Lightning got an A for effort. It outshot the Flyers 37-21, including 16-3 in the final period. But it didn't get the two points needed for a victory.
The game was deadlocked at 1 after two periods. But in the final period, the Flyers scored on two of their three shots (newcomer Mark Lamb and leading-scorer Mark Recchi each had goals) and the Lightning failed to score on its 16 shots. The result was a 3-1 Tampa Bay loss before 21,849 at the ThunderDome.
A victory would have put the Lightning three points behind the Flyers, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But now Tampa Bay is seven points behind Philadelphia with 16 games to play. And to make the picture more bleak, Florida and the New York Islanders, who also are battling for the final playoff berth, are ahead of Tampa Bay in the standings and each has four games in hand.
"This team is not going to die until the last game of the year," Lightning winger Adam Creighton said. "I still believe we can make the playoffs. We have 16 games left. That's 32 points. That's a lot of points. We were 22 points back at one point, now we're just seven."
Lightning coach Terry Crisp said in the grand scheme of things the loss to Philadelphia is no more significant than "a loss back in November. Two points lost now is the same as two points lost back then . . .
"But it certainly looms bigger now because time is running out on the game. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is now a freight train coming at us."
Tampa Bay was coming off a come-from-behind victory Saturday over Hartford. The odds of a win Sunday weren't good, considering that the Lightning entered the game against Philadelphia 3-9-4 in the second game of back-to-back outings.
But the Lightning got a break before the first puck was dropped when Flyers star Eric Lindros was scratched because of back spasms during the pregame skate.
"That can be good and bad," Lightning wing John Tucker said. "When we lose Brads (Brian Bradley) or Petr (Klima), the rest of the guys pick it up. Everyone picks it up more."
The Flyers also needed the victory badly. They have missed the playoffs for the past four years, and there have been many rumors circulating that Terry Simpson, the coach of the "underachieving" Flyers, may be out of a job soon.
Simpson called Sunday night's game "a battle." But the Flyers pulled out the victory, only their third in their past 15 road games.
Once again the Lightning's main weakness, goal-scoring, was costly. Dominic Roussel played solid in the net for Philadelphia, which has allowed the fifth-most goals in the NHL. But few of his 36 saves were tough.
"I don't care if all 37 shots were taken from the blue line and they hit him right in the gut, he still made 36 saves," Lightning defenseman Shawn Chambers said. "He played a good game. We just couldn't get anything to go into the net."
Bradley scored Tampa Bay's lone goal for a 1-0 lead, converting a crossing pass by Tucker in the first period. Bradley carried the team last season, but has struggled during this playoff stretch. Sunday's goal was just his fourth in his past 20 games.
"Sure I feel pressure, just like everybody else," Bradley said. "But I'm tired of talking about the goals and all that stuff. That's bull---- of the media. We're a team. I'm here to play hockey and they're just trying to stir the pot. Who care who scores if we win the game."
The Flyers had several good scoring chances in the first period, but goalie Daren Puppa made the key saves. His best was one for highlight films: While lying on his side, he raised his right leg, almost as in an exercise video, to stop Rod Brind'Amour's shot from 3 feet.
Michael Renberg, the leading rookie scorer with 62 points, tied the game at 1 when he put in the rebound of Brind'Amour's shot on a four-on-four.
But Lamb, acquired Saturday from the Ottawa Senators for Claude Boivin and Kirk Daubenspeck, scored the game-winner in his first game as a Flyer. He backhanded a shot from the slot past Puppa with Rudy Poeschek hanging on him at 2:20 of the final period.
Recchi scored an insurance goal, stealing Joe Reekie's dump-in and racing the length of the ice, finishing the play with a wrist shot to beat Puppa on his stick. It was Recchi's 34th goal.
"This (scoring problem) is nothing new," Crisp said. "It's not suddenly a big revelation. The guys did their best. We just have to go to Hartford (on Wednesday) and see if we can make up some ground. . . . We can't afford to dwell on the past."