CHICAGO - If the Lightning are looking to convince somebody to purchase the franchise, Wednesday's game was not the one to showcase.
In the first game since the proposed sale of the team fell through, the on-ice product looked to be in just as much disarray as the Tampa Bay lost its fourth consecutive game in a 5-1 setback to the Blackhawks. The Lightning winless streak reached five as Tampa Bay now sits just four points ahead of Washington for the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Former Tampa Bay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made 21 saves for the victory in his first game against the Lightning since he helped lead them to the 2004 Stanley Cup.
"It was kind of weird because I still know a lot of guys over there," Khabibulin said. "But I will always have a warm place in my heart for the guys you won with."
Martin Havlat, who used to torment the Lightning while he was with the Ottawa Senators, scored twice in his first game back after missing 22 games with a shoulder injury while 2007 top overall pick Patrick Kane added three assists and Patrick Sharp had a goal and an assist.
Johan Holmqvist allowed three goals on 10 shots through two periods before Marc Denis started the third in relief - his fifth appearance of the season, third in relief - allowing two goals on seven shots.
Only a Nick Tarnasky power-play goal midway through the third period spoiled the shutout bid for Khabibulin in a game that Tampa Bay never appeared to be in despite outshooting the Blackhawks 22-17.
"We've gone through a stretch of games here where we have played some pretty good hockey but we haven't got the results," associate coach Mike Sullivan said. "And I know one of the things Torts Lightning coach John Tortorella does and with the coaching staff is to try to see things for what they are and we try to be completely candid with our players.
"Tonight was a case where we didn't give ourselves a chance to win."
It was a rough opening period for the Lightning, and particularly Vinny Lecavalier. He had two turnovers - a misconnected drop pass and a pass back to the top of the offensive zone - that led to a pair of odd-man rush goals. The first play was picked up by Jason Williams and Havlat finished with a backhand over the shoulder of Holmqvist 43 seconds into the game. The second came on an attempted pass back to Paul Ranger that Sharp chipped up to Kane for a 2-on-1 rush. Kane took the initial shot but Dustin Byfuglien was there for the rebound with Lecavalier trailing just behind on the play at 5:31.
"It seemed like nothing was going right, it seemed like everything I touched today went in our net right after," Lecavalier said.
On the first shift of the second period, an icing call and a lost Lecavalier faceoff led to a Havlat one-timer 12 seconds in and the rout was on.
"You can't start like that in the National Hockey League," center Brad Richards said. "We want to win, but so does the other team. Just wanting to win isn't enough. We haven't figured that out here the last week or so.
"It's bad when you are treading water all the time. We've put ourselves in another hole that we need to get out of quick."