A hockey game can turn in a second, as the Tampa Bay Lightning know all too well, and tonight, a Buffalo Sabre goal with just 17 seconds remaining to be played turned an apparent 2-1 win into an eventual 3-2 shootout loss, foiling what had been, until almost the very end, an outstanding effort by the Lightning.
The tying goal, a bad angle shot from that Sabre forward Drew Stafford sent on net from the right half-boards, worked its way through a crowd and slipped under Lightning netminder Mike Smith’s stick.
“I didn’t see it come off the stick,” Smith explained. “No excuses really. I went to put the paddle of my stick down and the stick got caught on someone else’s stick in front and the puck went right through.”
Coach Rick Tocchet had challenged the Lightning to establish some consistency and Tampa Bay responded – charging the Buffalo net all game, forechecking aggressively while hustling back into their own end to sweep loose pucks clear of the crease and blocking 17 shots before they could reach the Lightning net.
Vincent Lecavalier’s first goal of the season with less than a second remaining to be played in the first period sent Tampa Bay into the locker room for the first intermission with a 1-0 lead. Lecavalier’s score was the result of a scramble in front of the crease which led to a backhand shot that hit Buffalo center Derek Roy’s skate blade and deflected past Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller. The long-awaited goal banished a scoreless streak that extended for 15 games through last season. Marty St. Louis and James Wright assisted on the Lecavalier goal. The assist kept St. Louis’ franchise record scoring streak alive at nine games. Wright’s helper was the first of his career and, along with his first goal, collected against San Jose on Thursday, gave the rookie points in two consecutive games.
Prior to Lecavalier’s less-than-last second goal, the period belonged to Lightning netminder Mike Smith. Although Smith only had to face seven shots from the Sabres, each was a good scoring chance and required a sharp stop by Smith.
The Lightning kept the energy up throughout the second period until a Victor Hedman turnover in front of the Tampa Bay net led to a Sabre score with 45 seconds remaining in the period. Mike Grier’s shot from in front of the goal crease beat a helpless Smith, who until then had been faultless, fielding 13 Buffalo shots to that point.
At the other end of the ice, Sabre goaltender Ryan Miller was also putting on a goaltending clinic, stopping St. Louis on a power play breakaway, moving across the crease to grab a shot that Victor Hedman launched from the top of the right faceoff circle and stoning Lecavalier after a display of pinpoint passing sent him in alone on the Buffalo net while Tampa Bay was shorthanded.
The action was end-to-end early in the final stanza as Steven Stamkos and Thomas Vanek alternated scoring chances without success until Stamkos, forechecking aggressively, created a turnover behind the Buffalo net and put a wraparound between Miller’s pads. The go-ahead goal, 4:26 into the period, was Stamkos’ seventh goal of the season and fourth in his last three games.
The 2-1 Bolt lead held up for much of the remaining fifteen minutes, including through a two-minute Sabre power play when Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund was called for cross checking and Smith was called on to make a diving save on Buffalo forward Derek Roy’s shot from the left face faceoff circle.
But with the clock ticking down and Miller on the bench for the extra attacker, Buffalo held the puck in the Tampa Bay zone until Stafford sent the last second score on net and through Smith for the tie.
The four-on-four overtime period was scoreless and while the subsequent shootout advanced six rounds deep, including a backhand shot from Lecavalier that beat Miller but clanged off the cross bar, it was Buffalo, playing in their first shootout of the season, that put an end to the proceedings when rookie defenseman Tyler Myers beat Smith with his backhand for the 3-2 final.
Despite the disappointing loss, Tocchet had praise for Smith, who made 30 saves and stopped five shootout attempts.
“He was solid,” Tocchet said. “Obviously he wishes he had the last one back. That’s a tough goal.”
A tough goal and a tough loss.
LIGHTNING BOLTS: Tampa Bay went 0 – 2 on the power play…the shootout loss dropped the Bolts to 0-3 in shootouts this season…with his goal, Stamkos is now tied with Ryan Malone for the Tampa Bay lead with seven...Stamkos now has collected points in five consecutive games…Wright, Andrej Meszaros and Matt Walker each blocked three shots…the Lightning had 26 shots on net; Lecavalier led the club with four… With the 1 point earned for the shootout loss, the Lightning are now 3-3-3 with 9 points.
Martin St. Louis
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 TBL