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Late dominance ends in a flash

John Tortorella had a smile on his face really.

The Lightning lost to the Bruins 4-3 Sunday night in the harshest of ways, with Bill Guerin scoring on a breakaway with 24.5 seconds left in overtime, but Tampa Bay's coach was seeing only silver linings.

"This hockey team competed its (butt) off against what I think is the best team in the league," Tortorella said. "I am very happy with the way the Tampa Bay Lightning is competing right now."

But somewhere in the back of Tortorella's mind, he must have been thinking about what might have been.

"It just stinks," he finally said, "to lose a game like that."

The Lightning had every chance to beat the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference. It outplayed Boston through the third period, forced the action through overtime and had the 18,009 at the Ice Palace on the edge of their seats.

But Tampa Bay just could not finish it off, failing on all seven of its power plays, including five in the third period. One two-minute advantage, which began with 6:03 left, included a 44-second four-on-three and a 44-second five-on-three.

The result was the end of Tampa Bay's team-record, seven-game unbeaten streak.

The Lightning got a point for the regulation tie, giving it points in a team-record eight consecutive games (3-0-4-1). But it lost a chance to pick up more ground on idle Montreal, which is nine points ahead of Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot in the East.

"We have to start putting these teams away," defenseman Dan Boyle said, making unspoken reference to Friday's tie at 3 in which the Canadiens scored with 6.2 seconds left in the third period.

Guerin put the Lightning away by beating goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin for his 36th goal. But it was P.J. Axelsson who made the play, knocking down Boyle at Boston's blue line, stealing the puck and getting it to his teammate.

"He laid a perfect pass right on my stick," Guerin said. "I just went five hole."

And just like that, it was over. Boston has won four straight and seven of its past eight.

The ending was even more startling because the Lightning had pushed the Bruins to the wall since 11:04 into the second period, when Vinny Prospal's second goal, and 15th of the season, tied the score at 3.

Tampa Bay outshot the Bruins 30-24 in the game and 14-5 from the beginning of the third period. But it was two third-period shots that did not go on net that were the most frustrating for the Lightning.

The first came off the stick of Vinny Lecavalier during the third-period five-on-three. Lecavalier, whose goal 2:07 into the game (his 14th and first in 11 games) gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead, missed an open net off a perfect feed from Dave Andreychuk.

"I had the game right there," said Lecavalier, adding he probably should have settled the puck instead of trying the one-timer. "The puck just bounced off my stick."

Next was Sheldon Keefe's shot that clanked off the post to the right of goalie Byron Dafoe, who tied a career best with his 32nd victory. Keefe did well just to get a shot off with a defender on his back.

"I just wanted to get it at the net," he said.

The power play, which had been so good in fueling the Lightning's resurgence since the Olympic break, has just one goal in its past 26 tries.

"I think we're forcing the issue a little," Andreychuk said. "We're not letting things happen. We're trying to do little individual things and it's not working for us."

So take your pick, silver lining or what might have been.

"That's the thing about overtime," Tortorella said. "You win it and it's such a rush. You lose it and it's tough to take."