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A pointed collapse

LEAFS 4, LIGHTNING 3 (OT): Tampa Bay leads 2-0 and 3-2 but again flags late and gets just one point.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 4, 2002


photo
[AP photo]
Nikolai Khabibulin makes a save in the second period, but the Lightning goaltender faced 48 shots total and allowed three goals in the third period and one in overtime.
TORONTO -- This is what happens when a team isn't going well; when it is, as Lightning coach John Tortorella said, "going through some bumps."

Your goaltender is superb and stops 44 shots, you get two goals in a team-record tying 12 seconds with less than two minutes left in the first period to take a 2-0 lead, and one of your marquee players scores a dazzling goal with 7:13 left in the game to give you a one-goal lead.

You get all those things, but give up three third-period goals and another in overtime and lose 4-3.

Granted, Tampa Bay's loss Tuesday night to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre earned it a point in the standings. And against a team that has won eight of its past 10, that's not all that bad.

But after Robert Reichel tied the score on a controversial goal with 4:00 left in regulation, and Karel Pilar scored the winner with 1:12 left in the extra period, the Lightning was in no mood for silver linings.

"We got away with a point but it feels like a loss," left wing Fredrik Modin said. "We should have won that game and we didn't."

The Lightning also lost a golden opportunity to break a cycle that has produced a 1-4-1-1 record in its past seven games, including three consecutive games in which it faltered in the third period and lost at least three crucial points.

Yes, Tampa Bay is hurting with Jassen Cullimore, its best defenseman, out with a strained left shoulder. And yes, the Leafs are one of the league's hottest teams. But the Lightning must close these games out if it is serious about making the playoffs.

"It's a test every night for us now to find a way to win and get points," Tortorella said. "We can't get down. We just have to figure out how to play in these situations."

The situation seemed to be going in the Lightning's favor.

Martin St. Louis and Modin scored with 1:22 and 1:10 left in the first period. St. Louis' goal tied him for the league lead with 15. Brad Richards assisted on both.

Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made the most saves he has had for the Lightning and was one off the team record. The Leafs had a 48-28 advantage in shots, tying the record for the most taken against Tampa Bay.

The Lightning started the third period with a 2-0 lead. But the Leafs surged, and instead of maintaining control of the puck by carrying it out of the defensive zone, the Lightning continually iced it, keeping the action in Tampa Bay territory.

"You could tell they were a fragile team," Leafs captain Mats Sundin said. "They gave us a chance to get back in the game."

Jonas Hoglund scored 5:43 into the period after getting the puck in the Lightning zone because a clearing attempt by Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle hit Dave Andreychuk, who couldn't control the puck.

Goalie Ed Belfour, who could not stop Vinny Lecavalier's double-deke move that gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead with 7:13 left, aided the cause with a dazzling glove save on Vinny Prospal and a better pad save on Tim Taylor's breakaway.

Sundin tied the score at 2 with a short-handed goal at 12:02, when his shot hit the stick of Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina and trickled through Khabibulin's legs.

Reichel scored to tie it at 3 after apparently high-sticking Kubina under his left eye. Though the defenseman was down on the ice, no penalty was called.

"What do you think?" said Kubina, who has an abrasion under his eye and will be tested today for a possible concussion. "He knocked me over pretty good."

Reichel did not comment, but Lecavalier said a penalty should have been called.

"Even if there is two minutes left, you have to call those," he said.

Who knows if it would have helped.

"You've got to give a little credit to Toronto," Tortorella said. "They turned it up a notch."

But it wouldn't have hurt.


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