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A tie and a record: Lightning unbeaten through four

LIGHTNING 3, PENGUINS 3: Resilient Tampa Bay scores two goals in the third period to rally and earn a point on the road.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002

PITTSBURGH -- In the matter of earning respect around the NHL, the Lightning took another step Saturday night.

It is not a subject Tampa Bay coaches or players are all that comfortable discussing. Center Tim Taylor said it is almost better if the league does not know about the apparently new and improved Lightning, because it is easier to sneak up on teams.

Who knew the Lightning was so bad at keeping a secret?

Tampa Bay made a statement in its tie at 3 with the Penguins at Mellon Arena. The team came from behind three times, including twice in the third period without Vinny Lecavalier, who is day to day with a sprained right knee.

"They came in and worked hard," Penguins left wing Dan LaCouture said. "They are a much-improved team. I give them a lot of credit."

"They are a very good hockey team," Penguins coach Rick Kehoe said. "They outworked us tonight. We were very lucky to get the point."

Pittsburgh can thank Johan Hedberg, who made 38 saves as the Lightning outshot the Penguins 41-29.

But the goalie couldn't stop Martin St. Louis' goal 1:28 into the third period that tied it at 2 or Dan Boyle's knuckle-balling wrist shot from the slot that tied it at 3 on a power play at 9:05.

In between, Alexei Kovalev gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead.

The victory increased the Lightning's franchise-record, season-opening unbeaten streak to four (3-0-1), snapped a five-game losing streak at Pittsburgh and ended the Penguins' three-game winning streak.

It also was the second game in which Tampa Bay earned points after trailing in the third period.

"We know we can play with anyone, especially coming from behind," said Boyle, who played a team-high 24:52. "But we'd like to play from the lead for a change to see how that works."

What was so encouraging was how the Lightning worked without Lecavalier. The center, who has three goals and four assists, said he hurt his knee in the first period when he fell, untouched, taking a shot. He said he wore a brace in the second period but could not continue.

His presence was missed in a failed 1:40 five-on-three and a failed man advantage that began with 2:01 left in regulation as the Lightning went 1-for-9 on the power play.

Tampa Bay went to three lines after Lecavalier's injury (all those gassers during training camp paid off), never relented (despite getting to Pittsburgh at 2:30 a.m. after Friday night's 8-5 barn-burner win over the Thrashers in Tampa) and got a terrific game from Nikolai Khabibulin.

The goalie made 26 saves, including a dazzling left-leg stop late in the second period on Aleksey Morozov, who got a perfect feed in the slot from Mario Lemieux.

Speaking of Lemieux, he was held to one assist after getting four goals and six assists his previous three games.

His helper came on Jan Hrdina's first-period power-play goal. Tampa Bay's Ben Clymer, who also got an assist, tied it at 1 at 3:45 of the second period. LaCouture gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead at 7:57.

"It's tough to play against them," Khabibulin said. "They get on the rush and they have people who can finish it. In that way it's hard. Every time you make a mistake, you pay for it."

But the Lightning, playing to win instead of, as it did for so much of last season, merely to survive, has earned at least as much back to make it a worthy investment.

"We as a team are not concerned with what people think about us," coach John Tortorella said. "We will continue to work and try to get points. We're just going day to day. We're very happy with the club and the way we battled and still found a way to get a point."

Like it or not, people are starting to notice.

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