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POSSIBLY A FITTING GOODBYE

A distracted Lightning loses its finale before the trade deadline.

The Lightning will not hide from the fact that it has underachieved this season. Players and coaches agree poor play has led them to this point - to the looming prospect that its roster will be shaken up by Tuesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline.

Saturday was the Lightning's final game until then, and in a 5-3 loss to Boston at the St. Pete Times Forum, coach John Tortorella watched his club play like its head was in the clouds.

The playoffs seem like a fantasy now. The Lightning trails Carolina by 12 points in the Southeast with 20 games left.

Defenseman Dan Boyle sat at his stall in the empty dressing room, thinking about a shot from the point that missed the net late in a one-goal game. It scooted around the boards and led to Boston's final goal. Moments later, he looked around the locker room, realizing the nameplates could change by the next game Wednesday.

"I think you appreciate what you had when it's gone," Boyle said, "Certainly, this has been a frustrating year. But whoever we lose - if we lose somebody - it's going to be somebody who is going to be missed. That's for sure."

"It's out of our control," center Vinny Lecavalier said. "It's business, but it's not just business.

Said forward Brad Richards, a subject of trade rumors: "You never know, so it is in the back of your mind."

After the game, moments after Richards emerged from a closed-door meeting in Tortorella's office, the coach expressed his frustration.

"There is a lot of stuff going on with this hockey team right now that's unfair to the players," he said. "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."

After the Lightning tied it at 2 on Michel Ouellet's goal 11:12 into the second, it was called for penalties 10 seconds apart, giving the Bruins a five-on-three. Johan Holmqvist made an amazing glove save, sprawling to take away an open net from Marco Sturm. But 10 seconds later, Glen Murray scored on a rebound.

Then 17 seconds into the third, Murray was credited with his second goal when a rebounded shot hit off Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger's skate and in.

"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."

The Lightning had a chance with four of its seven power plays coming in the third. But Vinny Prospal's power-play goal with 1:17 left was one of just three shots in the period. On the final power play, Boyle's shot slid around the boards and back up the ice, leading to a short-handed goal with 64 seconds left.

Boyle said if he took 100 shots like that, he might miss the net twice.

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

As for the trade rumors, the clock is ticking.

"It's a part of the game, part of the business," Boyle said. "Obviously, this team has underachieved this year. As players, we're responsible. We're the ones who go out there."

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