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Lightning is out to sustain edge against Rangers

Not only has it beaten New York twice, it will face a young backup goalie.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002

Back in Madison Square Garden, where it enjoyed one of its most dominant games of the season, the Lightning faces the Rangers today -- and for the second game in a row it will be facing a backup goalie.

Friday night it was Vancouver's Peter Skudra, who started in place of ex-Lightning goalie Dan Cloutier and slammed the door on Tampa Bay. Today it's Dan Blackburn, a 19-year-old who has played in place of longtime Rangers starter Mike Richter, sidelined since Nov. 5 by a concussion.

The Lightning will be without defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who missed his first game of the season Friday and is out for at least several more with a sprained left shoulder.

Although the Rangers are a middle-of-the-road team offensively, they have potent weapons in Mark Messier, Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros.

"I think as a team we have to pick it up, raise our games a notch," Lightning defenseman Cory Sarich said. "You get accustomed to Cully's style of play, solid, stay-at-home. We have other guys who I think fit that mold on this team, too. But Cully's spot is a tough one to fill. We've all got to be going strong at all times."

"He is a huge part of our hockey club," Lightning coach John Tortorella said of Cullimore. "I thought we stepped up and met the challenge for the most part (against Vancouver, when Nolan Pratt took his place), "but Cully is going to be sorely missed. We have to continue and try to play good team defense."

The Rangers offense has been anything but potent against the Lightning this season. New York lost the teams' first two meetings, both in October, 4-2 in New York and 3-0 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"They have a lot of major talent over there," Sarich said. "I think we've taken care of their top couple of lines pretty well, shutting down and frustrating Bure, Lindros and (Petr) Nedved. If you shut those top two lines down, it seems like the rest of the team goes down."

The Lightning beat the Rangers on the boards and in the corners, outmuscling them.

"You grind them in the corners, you bang them, you make sure you play the majority of the game down in their end where they don't want to be," Sarich said.

"That's what's been successful so far against them."

Blackburn is coming off a 3-3 tie against the Stars, among the NHL's best teams. That, though, was preceded by Blackburn allowing seven goals by the Thrashers, one of the league's worst.

The Lightning has a recent fond memory of the Garden -- the win in which Martin St. Louis scored a pair of goals, as he did Friday against the Canucks.

The Rangers were booed mercilessly by their fans through most of the third period, when New York could manage only four shots against Nikolai Khabibulin.

The Rangers, with the league's highest payroll, have won one of their past five games, and the job of carrying the team has fallen to a teenager until Richter's return.

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