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Lightning loses another one late

Tampa Bay is beaten for the 10th time after holding either a tie or a lead with 10 minutes left.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 9, 2002

CHICAGO -- Could somebody spare an aspirin for Tim Taylor, please?

The Lightning center said he was "sick to his stomach" about the way his team has lost games lately. A 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks Sunday night at the United Center was particularly uncomfortable.

It was the 10th time this season, and fifth time in six games, including twice in overtime, Tampa Bay lost after holding either a lead or a tie with 10 minutes left.

"We're not looking for plays to win hockey games," Taylor said. "We just aren't doing the right things at the right time."

The Lightning still is a point ahead of the Hurricanes atop the Southeast Division, but it lost at least five points during a 1-3-0-2 streak.

"I don't know what to say," Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle said. "This was really a strange one."

Maddening is more like it, as a superb performance by goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who made 35 saves, including 20 in the second period, was wasted.

And there was frustration as coach John Tortorella was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct with 19 seconds left for arguing with the referees.

"There was no issue," Tortorella said. "You're not going to get me to talk about it, so just let it go."

That defenseman Pavel Kubina was dragged down by Igor Korolev before Korolev's empty-net goal with 46.3 seconds left might have been a point of contention. But the real damage had been done.

Theo Fleury, playing in his second game since serving a 25-game suspension for violating the terms of his substance-abuse aftercare program, broke a tie at 1 with 4:57 left on a shot from the point that hit the post and angled into the net.

Khabibulin was screened by Tampa Bay defenseman Brad Lukowich, who also had failed to clear the puck from behind the net and gave it up when he was swarmed by three Blackhawks.

Korolev's goal was a nice capper after Blackhawks goaltender Jocelyn Thibault made point-blank saves on Martin St. Louis and Ruslan Fedotenko with 1:24 and 1:02 left, respectively.

"We're getting chances to score and chances to take the lead," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "We just can't find a way to get those points. When things go rough, they go rough, and we have to work even harder to get through this thing."

Sarich put Tampa Bay in a hole 2:49 into the game when he inadvertently deflected Steve McCarthy's shot past Khabibulin. It was McCarthy's first goal of the season and first in 55 games.

"I had no one in front (of the net) to cover. It's a natural reaction to try to stop the puck," Sarich said. "It's pretty deflating. Nine out of 10 times you stop the puck and take off. I just have to let him make the save and see if there's anybody to pick up."

St. Louis tied the score at 1 with his 16th goal on the power play 5:51 into the second period. Vinny Lecavalier, who had a game-high six shots, made the play, faking a shot in the high slot and holding the puck as he cruised to his left.

Thibault saved Lecavalier's shot with his left leg, but St. Louis pushed the puck into the net as it trickled toward the goal line.

St. Louis' 50th Lightning goal pushed him past John Cullen to 10th all-time. His 106th point passed Cullen for 14th.

But it wasn't nearly enough for what ails the Lightning.

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