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Bad start, bad end, not much in between

CANADIENS 5, LIGHTNING 1: Tampa Bay gives up three goals early and never comes close again.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2002

TAMPA -- Blech! Yuck! And that is putting it mildly.

TAMPA -- Blech! Yuck! And that is putting it mildly.

In a game that brought back vivid memories of 50-loss seasons past, the Lightning handed the Canadiens a 5-1 victory Saturday night at the Ice Palace.

Tampa Bay was outshot just 28-25 and spent the bulk of the game in the Montreal zone. But All-Star goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin allowed goals on the Canadiens' first shot, on two of their first three, and three of their first seven. He was yanked after the first period trailing 3-0.

Not that his teammates gave him much help.

The Lightning, winless in seven at home (0-6-1), sleepwalked through the first half of the game until a goal by Zdeno Ciger sparked some interest. But by then it was too late.

It was a disappointing beginning to a 12-game stretch against Eastern Conference foes, especially considering how well the team played Friday in gaining a tie at 2 against a formidable Blackhawks team.

It wasn't like Tampa Bay was playing a juggernaut. Montreal, which entered one point out of a playoff spot, was 1-6-2-1 in its past 10 road games.

But first-period goals by Andreas Dackell, Jan Bulis and Gino Odjick, all thanks to Lightning giveaways and misplays, were killers. Richard Zednik and rookie Mike Ribeiro also scored. Jose Theodore made 24 saves.

As well as the Lightning played Friday against the Blackhawks, that was how badly it played against the Canadiens. Montreal didn't exactly tear things up, outshooting Tampa Bay 7-3 in the first, but it gladly accepted the Lightning's charity in gaining an undeserved 3-0 lead.

It was awful from the start. Dackell scored his first goal in 19 games 1:23 into the period. It was the fourth time in the past 12 games the Lightning allowed a goal on the first shot.

The play broke down for the Lightning well before that as Joe Juneau knocked down Ciger's attempted clearing pass. The puck went behind the net to Bulis, who fed in front of the net to Dackell, who one-timed the shot past Khabibulin.

The goaltender blew it on the next goal as he shot the puck around the boards from behind the net right to Dackell, who found Bulis all alone in front of the net for the easy score at 3:50.

The Canadiens had scored twice on three shots, and Lightning coach John Tortorella tried to calm his players with a timeout.

The final blow came with 29.1 seconds remaining, when Khabibulin couldn't field Odjick's soft backhander and Montreal had a 3-0 lead. It was only Odjick's second goal but second in consecutive games, and Theodore got an assist.

Tampa Bay's best scoring chance came at 3:06 when defenseman Jassen Cullimore sent a pretty cross-ice pass that hit a charging Fredrik Modin in stride. But Theodore played it well and went to his knees to make the save.

Kevin Weekes started the second period in goal and held the Canadiens off for three shots before Zednik collected a pass from Oleg Petrov, got a half-step ahead of Martin St. Louis and scored at 7:49.

The Lightning showed an inkling of life as the period continued and outshot Montreal 9-6. It finally broke through at 9:00 when Ciger one-timed a nice cross-ice pass from Vinny Prospal and beat Theodore from a faceoff circle to make the score 4-1.

Theodore had to be sharp at 17:20 when Prospal's blast from the side boards called for a fine right leg save.

Tampa Bay also got some pressure during a power play that used up most of the period's final two minutes. Good puck movement created testing shots from the slot from Dan Boyle and Pavel Kubina. But Theodore was equal to the task, staying square to the puck and making fine pad saves.

Ribeiro's goal 6:01 into the third period finished the scoring.

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