Vincent Lecavalier and Dan Boyle scored just under two minutes apart early in the third to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning past Carolina 3-2 on Tuesday night. The Hurricanes became the first defending Stanley Cup winner to miss the playoffs the next season since New Jersey in 1996.
"We're completely frustrated as a team. Embarrassed," Carolina centre Eric Staal said. "We wanted to be in the playoffs.
"We wanted to defend the Cup we won last year, and we didn't get it done tonight. It's unacceptable for the guys we have in this room and the amount of talent we have. Everyone feels just terrible."
Lecavalier tied it 2-2 on his 52nd goal at 1:20 of the third. He scored from the low slot off Vinny Prospal's deflected pass. Boyle gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead when skated into the Carolina zone and scored from the right circle at 3:13.
Eric Perrin also scored for the Lightning, which trails Southeast Division-leading Atlanta by one point. Tampa Bay, sixth in the Eastern Conference, improved to 10-21-1 when trailing after two periods.
"The team has some fight in it," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said.
Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour had the Carolina goals. The Hurricanes have dropped four of five.
It was just the third time in 30 games Carolina has lost when holding a lead entering the third period.
"It's not something we do a lot of," Staal said. "It couldn't have been a worse time than right now for that to happen."
Whitney put the Hurricanes up 1-0 with 7:31 left in the first. Erik Cole, who was stopped by Johan Holmqvist on a breakaway, picked up the loose puck after skating around the net and set up Whitney's goal.
Tampa Bay nearly tied it just over two minutes later, but Cam Ward make an in-close save on Brad Richards. Ward stopped 14 shots during the first.
Brind'Amour made it 2-0 on a flukey power-play goal 1:25 into the second. Scott Walker sent the puck behind net, where it took a strange bounce off the end boards and wound up near the post. Brind'Amour then tapped the puck into the net.
"This is the biggest loss of the year," Hurricanes forward Cory Stillman said. "Tonight gave us an opportunity to stay in the playoffs, and we let one slip away."
Tampa Bay got within 2-1 with 11:27 to go in the second when Perrin scored on a waist-high deflection off a pass from Jason Ward.
"We're trying to build that intensity that you need in the playoffs," Perrin said.
Notes: Walker (illness) returned after missing one game.... Carolina LW Andrew Ladd (illness) didn't play. ... Lecavalier has six goals in eight games against Carolina this season. ... The Hurricanes continue to be without injured D Glen Wesley (lower leg) and D Bret Hedican (lower body). ... Carolina signed C Nicolas Blanchard, taken in the sixth round of the 2005 amateur draft, to a three-year contract. Blanchard, 19, will join Albany of the AHL.