John Tortorella wanted to give credit where credit was due, but the Tampa Bay coach couldn't step to the postgame podium and say the Panthers beat his team Saturday night.
Tortorella instead spoke of his Lightning's implosion, the latest in a season full of late-game detonations. The coach's frustration peaked not just because of the way his team lost, but because of who he believed was to blame.
The Lightning played 2-1/2 periods of winning hockey. Then it allowed two goals in the final 5:56 - both after mental miscues by veterans - en route to a 3-2 loss at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"I don't look at Florida beating us in the third period," Tortorella said. "I look at us self-destructing. We gave it to them. That's what just eats at me, the thought process sometimes. I don't have a problem with the efforts. I have a problem with the smarts.
"It's a hard one because we just can't have many more of these. We're out of time. I could understand it a little bit more if they put 45 shots on us and we had 20 shots and they beat us. But we beat ourselves. That's the frustrating part to me."
The Lightning could blame much of its struggles this season on inconsistent goaltending and a young defense. But Saturday, Karri Ramo made 29 saves (some spectacular), and two veteran defensemen made mistakes.
Up 2-1, Dan Boyle was alone in his zone when the puck came his way. He caught it with his glove and underhanded it forward, drawing a penalty for closing his hand on the puck. Tortorella said it was the right call. Olli Jokinen scored on the ensuing power play.
"Originally, I was going to put it down and play it, but there's a guy right on me," said Boyle, likening it to a punt returner making a fair catch.
Then Brad Lukowich's cross-ice pass at his blue line was picked off by Greg Campbell. Soon after, Richard Zednik scored the winner with 1:05 left when Jassen Cullimore's shot bounced off the end boards right to him.
"We've lived through some times where some of our youth mounts up on you but not (Saturday)," Tortorella said. "(Saturday), it's two veteran defensemen making two key mistakes."
The Lightning went into the night riding momentum after putting star forwards Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards together with puck-moving defensemen Boyle and Paul Ranger with success in Thursday's win.
Despite accounting for 26 of the Lightning's season-high 46 shots Saturday, none scored.
"We could have buried some chances and put the game away in the third. We didn't," Richards said. "They got two chances, and it's in our net. Lucky chances, but they're still chances."
Burned in the third ...
Most goals allowed in any period:
Team No. Period
Lightning 73 Third
Hurricanes 67 Third
Thrashers 67 Second
... in other periods, as well
Most goals allowed excluding those assigned for shootout losses:
Team Total SL Net
Kings 179 2 177
Lightning 178 1 177
Hurricanes 177 1 176
Thrashers 180 4 176