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Khabibulin shows how it's done

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 6, 2002

TORONTO -- What a difference Nikolai Khabibulin makes. And a little more care by his teammates.

The Lightning earned a well-deserved 3-2 overtime victory over the Maple Leafs on Saturday night in front of 18,868 at the Air Canada Centre to finish the preseason 5-3-1, atop the Southeast Division, and tie a team record for preseason victories.

Khabibulin made 28 saves and Tampa Bay got goals from Vinny Lecavalier, his first of the preseason, Sheldon Keefe and Jassen Cullimore, the winner off a beautiful feed from Fredrik Modin with 2:43 left.

"I just stepped onto the ice. From there, I took a chance and made a move," said Cullimore, who beat goalie Ed Belfour. "I'm not known for scoring goals, so there was probably some luck involved too."

Bryan McCabe's goal 13:23 into the third period sent the game into overtime.

It was an abrupt turnaround from Friday's 5-1 loss to the Senators. Instead of turning the puck over, Tampa Bay was protective and forced the play when it could.

Instead of the shaky goaltending Kevin Hodson provided against Ottawa, Khabibulin was solid.

His save 42 seconds into the second period on Alexander Mogilny's breakaway, after Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis fumbled the puck during a power play, protected a 1-0 lead.

"Nik looked very sharp," coach John Tortorella said. "Not a whole lot of wasted movement, and we found a way to win. That's the way its going to be against the better teams in the league."

Last spot for Svitov?

With one more cut needed to reach the 23-man roster limit, the Lightning must decide if it wants rookie center Alexander Svitov to cut his teeth in the NHL or get some experience at AHL Springfield.

Tampa Bay cut left wing Nikita Alexeev, center Martin Cibak and defenseman Darren Rumble a day earlier than expected. Each was assigned to Springfield.

That leaves Svitov, the No. 3 pick of the 2001 draft, fighting with right wings Shane Willis, Keefe, Ben Clymer and Jimmie Olvestad for the final roster spot.

"This was very, very difficult," general manager Jay Feaster said of the cuts. "No one played his way out of camp."

Feaster said he likely will not make his most difficult decision until Tuesday, when final rosters must be submitted.

Feaster could go the easy way and send Svitov, Keefe or Olvestad to the minors.

Because of a lack of NHL games played, none would need to clear waivers.

But Keefe is carving out a nice niche as a utility player, and Olvestad is a defensive gem.

Willis and Clymer, both of whom have had disappointing camps, would have to clear waivers. Rather than lose the players without compensation -- it is almost a certainty either would be claimed -- Feaster could work a trade.

Feaster did not deny something might be up.

"We're always talking to people," he said.

Alexeev's demotion was the most intriguing. He started camp playing with the team's top lines. Feaster said inconsistency was his undoing.

"He never grabbed the spotlight," Feaster said.

ODDS AND ENDS: Left wing Dave Andreychuk returned to action after missing four games with a broken small right toe. ... Svitov, Willis, left wing Andre Roy and defenseman Dan Boyle were scratched.


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