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Lightning strikes back on home ice

LIGHTNING 4, ISLANDERS 3: Vinny Lecavalier scores twice and Tampa Bay hangs on at home to get revenge against nemesis New York.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2002


TAMPA -- John Tortorella was worried. Contrary to popular belief, NHL teams, good ones and bad ones, do not necessarily respond well to coming home after long road trips. Not such a pleasant thought, since the Lightning had spent 17 of the past 21 days on the road and came home Saturday night to face an Islanders team responsible for one of its most demoralizing losses in an otherwise promising season.

Ironically, the Islanders may have saved the day.

Led by two goals and an assist from center Vinny Lecavalier, the Lightning rode an early energy burst to a pair of three-goal leads and held on despite itself for a 4-3 win before an announced crowd of 15,912 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The Lightning had been outscored 22-7 in losing five in a row to the Islanders, including a 7-2 loss at home on Nov. 21. Determined to atone, the Lightning sprung to 3-0 and 4-1 leads by early in the second period, but a palpable mental lapse allowed the Islanders back into the game.

New York outshot the Lightning 11-4 in the third and 27-24 for the game.

The energy level was visible throughout and the two points were deserved, Tortorella said, but his team still needs to learn to make things easier for itself.

"For the first half of the game I thought we played pretty well," he said. "We get a quick goal right off, lead them 10-3 in chances in the first period, and from then on I wasn't too pleased. Not with the situational play in the third period, not with the situational play at the end of the game. So we held on."

Poor passes and misalignments led to late goals by Shawn Bates, short-handed at 18:47 of the second, and Kenny Jonsson at 12:22 of the third to cut the deficit to a goal.

"We definitely let them back in when we didn't need to," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "We should have kept pouring it on."

Sarich was an unlikely offensive spark, scoring 12 seconds into the game. His slap shot over goaltender Garth Snow's right pad was a second off Dino Ciccarelli's 1997 team record for the fastest goal to start a game. It was Sarich's second goal after he began the season with one in 208 career games.

Brad Richards' assist on the goal extended his points streak to seven games, during which he has two goals and eight assists.

The Lightning (15-10-3-3, 36 points) and winners of two straight, increased its lead in the Southeast Division to three points over Carolina.

Lecavalier was the complete player Tortorella envisioned when he stationed him on each of his specialty units to begin the season. He hustled, he hunted and he used his physical abilities on each end of the ice.

Lecavalier gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead at 13:57 of the first period when he took a pass from Vinny Prospal and followed a save of a backhand try by crashing the net and tipping the puck past Snow.

Lecavalier sprung open for three breakaways, the most critical at 1:17 of the second period with the Lightning attempting to kill off a Tim Taylor hooking penalty.

Right wing Ruslan Fedotenko started the play by winning the puck at his blue line, then banked a pass ahead to center ice, where Lecavalier was sprinting. Lecavalier controlled the puck between the slots, shouldered away Jonsson and flicked the puck in for his 14th of the season and the first short-handed goal of his career.

"I didn't think I was going to win (the puck), but I guess (Jonsson) had been on the ice for two minutes," Lecavalier said. "When I saw he was tired I got ahead of him and once again was stick-handling away. I tried to make a move and (Snow) bit on that one and I ran right into the net."

Prospal's seventh goal of the season gave the Lightning a 4-1 lead at 14:48 of the second period.

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made 24 saves and won his second straight decision after losing three of four on the just completed road trip.


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