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DISTRACTED LIGHTNING FALLS AGAIN

The frustration keeps growing while rumors continue to swirl.

If this truly was the last time we saw the Lightning as we've grown to know it, this wasn't the way Tampa Bay wanted to be remembered.

With the core group of the Stanley Cup-winning team three seasons ago on the verge of being broken up by Tuesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline, the Lightning played like a team in serious need of reworking.

All that's swirling around the Lightning, it appears to have become a distraction. That much was clear in a 5-3 loss to the Bruins on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"I'm going to be honest with you," coach John Tortorella said. "There is a lot of stuff going on with this hockey team right now that's unfair to the players. It's unfair to players who are still trying to compete and play.

"The (expletive) that's going on with this (expletive) hockey club right now, it's inexcusable as far as treating hockey players as pros."

Johan Holmqvist was erratic early, allowing two soft goals in the game's first 26 minutes. Marty St. Louis twice skated in on a breakaway on Bruins backup Alex Auld but was stoned by glove saves both times. Despite a first-period assist on Mathieu Darche's goal, Vinny Lecavalier has just one goal in his past 10 games.

"The way we're losing games is very frustrating," defenseman Dan Boyle said, "We're just finding ways to lose the game."

Then there was the Lightning's anemic power-play unit, which malfunctioned when needed most in the third. It couldn't convert on its first five man advantages Saturday.

The Lightning was two for its past 25 on the power play before Vinny Prospal scored late (one of just three third-period shots despite four power plays). But it was nullified when a turnover in the game's final 64 seconds led to a short-handed goal.

But there wasn't a more frustrating moment than watching defenseman Paul Ranger lose the puck 10 seconds into third period and moments later seeing it deflect off his right skate and into the net, a gift-wrapped goal that put Boston ahead 4-2.

"I'm not going to give you a bunch of information as to what's going on. But ... there are a few (players) who have extenuating circumstances going on, which didn't have to go on," Tortorella said, moments after center Brad Richards, a topic of trade rumors, was summoned to the coach's office.

"I'm not beating up any player. I support the players in how they're going about doing their business."

With the score tied at 2 late in the second, the Lightning found itself on a five-on-three penalty kill. Holmqvist lunged to his left and took away an open net from Marco Sturm with an amazing glove save. But with 1:35 late in the period, Glen Murray picked up the rebound of Zdeno Chara's shot from the point and backhanded it by a sprawled out Holmqvist.

"It's a game that in the second period I thought we dominated until the end," Tortorella said. "At the end of that period, we took some penalties. And in the third, you see how it starts. And then it turns into things that our guys just don't do."

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