It might be possible to play harder than the Tampa Bay Lightning did and still lose, but not by much, as they dropped a heartbreaker to the Northeast Division leading Boston Bruins 3-1 tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The effort that interim coach Rick Tocchet has been seeking was there in plentiful supply as the Lightning out hit, out shot and, for stretches, out skated one of the top teams in the NHL. But with goals currently hard to come by for Tampa Bay, no margin for error exists and it was one error that did the damage when the Bruins scored a shorthanded goal 8:17 into the final period.
The Lightning wasted no time in jumping into the lead in the first period when Vincent Lecavalier centered the puck to Martin St. Louis, who ripped the puck into the Boston net, to the left of Bruins netminder Tim Thomas. The goal was number six on the season for St. Louis, but was a milestone for Lecavalier, as his assist was career number 340 and gave him sole possession of first place on the Lightning’s franchise assist list. Ryan Malone also assisted on the score, which came 1:21 into the game.
Tampa Bay continued to pressure the Bruins, notching the first five shots on goal before Boston got their first, but once Boston got going it was up to Lightning netminder Mike Smith to fend off the high-scoring Bruin attack. He came up with a sensational save on Boston winger Chuck Kobasew at 10:58 and an even better one less than a minute later when Smith robbed Blake Wheeler at point-blank range.
At the close of the first period, the Lightning held a 1-0 lead.
The second period began as the first had, as Tampa Bay came out roaring. Steve Downie had a great scoring opportunity just 30 seconds in but he shot wide on an open net. Tampa Bay recorded the first four shots and nine of the first 11 in the period. The Lightning continued to press the attack but Thomas took a shot from Vaclav Prospal off his right pad at 15:30 and less than a minute later Steven Stamkos employed the spin-a-rama move to get a shot off from the top of the faceoff circle that Thomas gloved.
Seven minutes into the period, after spotting the Lightning the majority of puck possession time, the Bruins began to battle back. They tested Smith severely while pumping five straight shots on net. Finally, at 12:21, Boston got the equalizer when Phil Kessel gathered a pass from Marc Savard and, alone in front of the crease, slipped the puck under Smith.
The second period ended with the score tied at 1-1, but Tampa Bay held the advantage in shots, 22 –17, and hits, 20-12.
Most of the action early in the third period was in the neutral zone as neither team could generate a consistent attack. At 14:50, Downie created another great scoring opportunity when he got behind the Bruin defense and broke in alone on Thomas. His shot careened off Thomas’s stick and into the air, landing on top of the Boston net.
At 6:31, Boston defenseman Shane Hnidy was whistled for hooking and the Lightning began their third power play of the night. Early in the man advantage, Lecavalier was robbed by Thomas on a snap shot from the top of the right circle. While still skating a man short, Bruin forward Blake Wheeler picked up the puck in the neutral zone and fed a cross ice pass to David Krejci. Krejci broke down the left side of the ice, wheeled to get clear and shot the puck past Smith to his right, to make the score 2-1, Boston.
The goal was Boston’s second shorthanded goal of the season, and marked the second consecutive game that the Lightning had been victimized while on the power play.
“We have no margin for error,” interim coach Rick Tocchet said after the game. “It’s like we have to play so perfect and obviously in this game you can’t always be perfect.”
Tampa Bay regained their equilibrium and took up the attack on the Boston zone, firing pucks from all angles that Thomas handled as the clock continued to tick down.
With one second remaining, Kessel got his second goal of the night when he shot the puck into the empty Lightning net after Smith was pulled for an extra skater.
“We played hard tonight, real hard.” Tocchet said. “We out-chanced them, 16 to 10, but that doesn’t matter, it’s just the results.”
Tampa Bay gets another chance to change the results when they meet the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night in the St. Pete Times Forum.
Martin St. Louis
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