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Lightning stays on ice after 2-1 overtime loss

For the second time this week, Tampa Bay puts itself in good position to win, only to fall, this time to Montreal.

The Lightning can't get a break unless it's one that affects the heart.

The latest chip occurred Thursday night, when the Canadiens scored a 2-1 overtime victory before an announced 9,516 at the Ice Palace.

Worst of all, Martin Rucinsky's winning goal 31 seconds into the extra period came when the defense failed to make a play coach Steve Ludzik said the team has practiced all season.

"It's probably the first thing we talked about in training camp," he said.

"There's not much you can say," defenseman Petr Svoboda said. "We've said it all. There are no excuses."

Only bitter numbers.

The Lightning is 3-19-2 since Dec. 10 and has gone 11 overtimes without a victory, losing five.

The Canadiens outshot the Lightning 23-17 in a game in which the action flowed like a dammed river. Tampa Bay was 0-for-5 on power plays and had to play 26 minutes, 9 seconds in its zone.

The only good number: Tampa Bay got a point for the regulation tie.

But the game still is a loss, and it wasted an excellent effort by goaltender Dan Cloutier, whom Ludzik said played "great" and kept the first period, which ended with Montreal ahead 1-0, from getting out of hand.

"We could have been down 10-0," Ludzik said.

Instead, it was 1-1 after regulation. Montreal ended things quickly.

Sergei Zholtok drove the net to Cloutier's right, with Rucinsky to the left. They criss-crossed between the faceoff circles. Cloutier, as is his job, stayed with Zholtok because he had the puck.

The mistake came when defenseman Pavel Kubina also followed Zholtok in an attempt to help Svoboda. That left Rucinsky and the net open. Zholtok made the pass. Rucinsky didn't miss.

"I did the criss-cross and should have stayed on my side," Kubina said. "I tried to help Petr."

"That is a play I told my guys after the game, "That is a basic 2-on-2 maneuver,' " Ludzik said. "The rule on our hockey club is you do not cross and wait that out. We do it every day in practice."

Rucinsky gladly took the gift. He has 16 goals but hadn't scored since Dec. 23.

"It was a huge goal for me personally because I haven't scored in a while, and it's good to get the monkey off my back," he said.

Ludzik was just as peeved the game went into overtime. The Lightning pretty much did what Ludzik expects on defense. It limited Montreal to fewer than 25 shots and held it to 0-for-6 on the power play.

What Tampa Bay didn't do is convert its chances. Darcy Tucker scored at 10:46 of the second period off a terrific pass from behind the net from Mike Sillinger. That counteracted Trevor Linden's goal 19 seconds into the game. It came after Craig Rivet intercepted Chris Gratton's attempted clearing pass.

But after that, there was frustration.

Sillinger missed the net with 4:42 left in the third after crashing in on goalie Jeff Hackett. Gratton had an open shot that went off the heel of his stick, and Hackett made the save with six seconds left in the first. Paul Mara's blistering slap shot early in the third hit the post.

"Why put the game in the hands of the gods?" Ludzik said of the missed chances. "That's what we're doing."

"We have to capitalize on our chances," Vincent Lecavalier said. "It's just a matter of us getting a little lucky out there."

Luck had nothing to do with the final goal.

"We practice it every day," Cloutier said. "I'm not sure what happened. I played the skater. I turned around, and the guy was open in front of the net."

"We're beating ourselves right now," Svoboda said. "That's about it."