HAWKS 2, LIGHTNING 0: Consecutive road shutouts extend skid to 5.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2002
CHICAGO -- The expletive spoken by Martin St. Louis was low level, almost plaintive.
This is what happens when a team is trying to find its way; trying hard to break the ice, or in the Lightning's case, get the puck across a goal line that seems to be protected by an invisible, impenetrable barrier.
Tampa Bay had just held the NHL's second-highest scoring team to two goals, but all that meant Friday night was it lost 2-0 to the Blackhawks at the United Center.
Tampa Bay has lost five straight, its second-longest streak of the season, has been shut out twice in a row and has not scored in 127 minutes, 34 seconds.
"I think we played well enough to win," St. Louis said. "But if you don't score you don't win. We competed. We competed hard."
Then St. Louis turned his head, breathed out and quietly cursed.
Lightning coach John Tortorella felt St. Louis' pain.
"It's a good group of people here who want to make a difference," he said. "They want to score the goals. Sure they have to be thinking about it. Hopefully it's a situation where, when we do start scoring goals, they will come in bunches."
What makes this loss hurt more is that Tampa Bay, whose 78 goals are second-fewest in the league, had chances to put a bunch of goals together.
The team did better -- though not nearly well enough -- at creating traffic in front of Chicago goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, who got his league-high 23rd victory.
But St. Louis shot high and wide on a breakaway. Vinny Lecavalier ripped a bullet that loudly clanged off the post and Vinny Prospal missed an open net from in front when Chicago's Eric Daze pushed the puck off his stick just as he was about to shoot.
If any of those hit the net, the score is tied at 1 and who knows what might have happened.
As it turned out, the Blackhawks outshot the Lightning 29-17. Mike Peluso's first-period tally was the winner and Thibault got his third shutout of the season and 24th of his career as Chicago ran its winning streak to five.
The Lightning also lost center Tim Taylor in the first period with a groin strain. He is day to day.
The Lightning hurt itself in the third period when Brad Richards took a bad slashing penalty 10:47 in, and Pavel Kubina got four minutes for high-sticking 59 seconds later. That led to Tony Amonte's power-play goal at 13:17.
"I don't know what to say," Lecavalier said. "We have to keep going and keep battling, and I'm sure everything is going to be all right."
The Lightning deserves some credit. The Blackhawks came into the game No. 2 in the league behind the Red Wings in goals and are 15-3-4 at home. They played like it in the first period, outshooting Tampa Bay 14-3 and challenging the Lightning physically.
Tampa Bay's answer began with Gordie Dwyer holding his own against super-heavyweight Bob Probert. Combined with Nikolai Khabibulin's huge effort, the Lightning held its ground.
"I was very encouraged with the last 40 minutes of the game," Tortorella said. "The whole bench was alive. We really felt like we had a chance to get back in there. We have to build off those last 40 minutes. We have to find a way to keep scoring goals. We have to keep working at it."
St. Louis would do anything to have his second-period breakaway back. Sprung by a steal and pass by Fredrik Modin, St. Louis said he shot too quickly. "I tried to surprise him," St. Louis said of Thibault. "It's not much of a surprise when it doesn't go on net."
And if Tortorella ever needs an excuse to yell at his players to crash the net, he need only remember the puck that was laying untouched in the crease for about four seconds after Thibault saved Mathieu Biron's shot.
"You know you have to get in there and get it," said Peluso, who finally swept the puck away.
The Lightning could say the same.
"A few bounces didn't go our way," St. Louis said. "We just have to work harder to get them to go our way."