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Comeback kids slam door on Florida

LIGHTNING 3, PANTHERS 2: A bout and three late goals carry Tampa Bay to consecutive wins.

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002


TAMPA -- The Lightning has few healthy bodies, little experience and no reason to think it should be winning.

But it has fight.

Sparked by defenseman Cory Sarich's fists, Tampa Bay scored three times in the third period for a 3-2 victory against Florida before an announced 16,684 Saturday at the Ice Palace.

It was the first time this season the Lightning won after trailing at the end of the second period. In three games since the Olympic break, Tampa Bay has earned five of a possible six points.

"It's funny how, when you lose some of your main guys, your team decides to to come together and play within the team concept," coach John Tortorella said. "They worked hard and they were rewarded for their hard work."

Defenseman Dan Boyle assisted on the tying goal and scored the winner against his former team. Brad Richards had a goal and assist and rookie Jimmie Olvestad scored.

Nikolai Khabibulin had 24 saves.

Florida got goals from Marcus Nilson in the first period and Pavel Bure in the second and Tampa Bay trailed 2-0 well into the third period, stonewalled by goaltender Roberto Luongo. Turned away time after time by Luongo's acrobatic saves, the Lightning had every reason to be dejected. That was when Sarich pumped new life into the team.

With his fists.

Angered by what he perceived to be a dirty hit from Byron Ritchie, Sarich chased the Panthers defenseman to center ice, where they dropped gloves. Sarich got in two solid rights, bloodying Ritchie's nose, and was assessed 17 minutes in penalties: An instigating minor, a fighting major and a 10-minute game misconduct.

Inspired, the Lightning took control.

"He fought really well and got the crowd going," Richards said. "On the bench, it lifted everybody up to another level."

After killing Sarich's two-minute penalty, Tampa Bay scored twice in 1:45 to tie it. Richards, who scored twice in Friday's 4-2 win against San Jose, converted on the power play, beating Luongo with a sharp-angle shot 8:40 into the period after Pavel Kubina's slapper bounced hard off the boards.

Luongo made the save on Boyle's close-range shot, but Olvestad chipped the loose puck in at 10:25 for his third goal of the season.

Boyle's winner was sweet revenge.

"It felt great to score that goal," said Boyle, traded in January because he did not fit into newly hired coach Mike Keenan's system. "The last several months there were tough. I didn't agree with a lot of things that happened, so it made that goal feel that much better."

Keenan was disappointed Ritchie accepted Sarich's challenge, and that Ritchie's teammates did not respond by getting physical.

"I guess we don't care about each other enough," he said. "We don't have that feel for each other. A guys gets his nose busted in a fight and nobody does anything about it."

It was the first time in three tries this season Florida beat Luongo, who allowed one goal and had 65 saves in two previous meetings. Luongo, who made a franchise-record 57 saves in Wednesday's overtime loss to Detroit, had 28 against the Lightning.

"We finally solved Luongo," Tortorella said. "He plays well against us."

For the second night in a row, injury-riddled Tampa Bay played with a makeshift lineup. It got quality play from six minor-leaguers and veteran Grant Ledyard, who split time playing defense, wing and center.

Though fortuitous in the short term, Sarich's fisticuffs could carry a price. The game misconduct penalty was his third this season, which carries an automatic two-game suspension.

The Lightning will appeal. It can't hurt, the way this team is overcoming odds these days.

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