By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002
TAMPA -- Some losses hurt more than others.
Losing 4-2 to the Capitals in front of an announced 16,675 Saturday night was painful enough for the Lightning, considering it came against one of the half-dozen teams Tampa Bay is chasing in pursuit of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Worse was the loss, even if only for a couple of games, of center Vinny Lecavalier, one of the team's few scoring leaders who hadn't been bitten by the injury bug.
Lecavalier twisted his left ankle 1 1/2 minutes into the game and, except for a brief attempt to return with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the first period during a Tampa Bay power play, he was gone for the night.
Lecavalier was skating through the neutral zone along the left side and had turned to look back when he appeared to catch a rut and slumped to the ice. He wasn't putting weight on his left foot as he was helped off the ice and into the locker room.
The loss dropped Tampa Bay six points behind Washington in the Southeast Division. More importantly, it kept the Lightning from cutting into the nine-point margin held by the Rangers for the coveted eighth spot.
Tampa Bay controlled play through most of the first period, buzzing around Washington goalie Craig Billington and missing several chances to jam the puck home.
Brad Richards and Vinny Prospal had a clean two-on-one midway through the period but Prospal was a step ahead of the puck, causing an offsides. Five minutes later they teamed for the game's first goal.
Ben Clymer started it with a pass from the right point along the boards to Richards behind the net. He skated to his left and fired it into the slot to an unguarded Prospal, who shot it in. It was Prospal's 30th point of the season, one more than he had in 2000-01.
The Capitals took total control from the drop of the puck in the second period. It took the Lightning 101/2 minutes to get its first shot on goal. By then Washington led 2-1.
Dainius Zubrus, in the faceoff circle to the right of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, passed to the blue line where Frantisek Kucera stopped it and fed it in the slot to Adam Oates, who scored 3:34 in. Khabibulin never had a chance -- then or less than two minutes later when Peter Bondra outraced Nikita Alexeev along the right side, fended him off as he swept behind the net, then found Ulf Dahlen unguarded 10 feet in front of Khabibulin.
It wasn't Khabibulin's night. He was replaced by Kevin Weekes with 7:33 left in the second period after giving up a soft third goal. Colin Forbes skated down the right side and wristed a shot from the faceoff circle. It hit Khabibulin in the left shoulder and bounced up and into the goal.
Weekes didn't allow any goals, but the damage was done. Washington scored into an empty net in the final minute.
The Lightning had a chance to pull within a goal in the opening seconds of the third period when Jimmie Olvestad passed from behind Billington to a close-in Dave Andreychuk, whose point-blank shot was stopped by the Capitals goalie.
They teamed again -- with Kubina between them -- to make it 3-2 with 1:55 gone in the period. Olvestad passed behind the net to Kubina, who came out to the right of Billington and tried to jam it home.
The puck bounced to Andreychuk who scored. It was Kubina's 100th point with the Lightning. Among the team's defensemen, only Roman Hamrlik had more with 185.
When two tightening defensemen collided later at the Washington blue line, Bondra had what looked like a clean breakaway, but Mathieu Biron closed the gap, dived and sticked it away about 15 feet from the crease.