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Tampa Bay special teams are anything but

FLAMES 4, LIGHTNING 1: Giving up three power-play goals forces a closed-door meeting for players.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003


CALGARY -- The wakeup call came at about 9:28 p.m. mountain standard time.

The Lightning had fallen hard to the Flames 4-1 Thursday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome, and the players decided to talk it over.

For 17 minutes they met without coaches and wrestled with the realization the terrific start that has defined the season is close to being wasted.

"It's nothing to do with panicking," center Brad Richards said. "But if we don't have that start we had, we would be in a lot of trouble right now. Forget about the start and feeling good about our start and we're a first-place team and all that stuff."

Richards acknowledged the team has not played like a first-place representative "since the beginning of November, probably." He is right. Since a 7-1-2 start that ended Oct. 30, Tampa Bay is 10-13-3-3. It has one win in its past 10 road games, and its 42 points are one better than the surging Capitals atop the Southeast.

But the division is a log-jam. The Panthers' victory over the Avalanche gave Florida 40 points. The Hurricanes are fourth with 38.

"It's a wakeup call to realize we're just one or two losses of being ahead of just Atlanta in the division," Richards said.

The culprit Thursday was special teams.

Calgary, which came into the game having converted one of its past 33 chances with the man advantage, got three goals on its first three power plays of the first period. Goals by Martin Gelinas and Stephane Yelle came after the front of the net was left unattended. Jarome Iginla's goal came on a five-on-three.

Martin St. Louis scored his 20th goal 7:37 into the third period on the power play, his 40th point to tie his career high.

Iginla's empty-net goal with 50.4 seconds left, his 11th this season and fifth in his past five games, ended the scoring.

Other than St. Louis' goal, which trickled past goalie Roman Turek, the Lightning did not help itself much until the third period, in which it outshot the Flames 12-9. Until then Calgary held a 23-14 advantage, and the shots rarely tested Turek, who made 25 saves to raise the Flames' record at home, where they have struggled, to 4-9-5-1.

Tampa Bay goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was solid, making 28 saves.

The Lightning also hurt itself in the faceoff circle, losing 61 percent of draws. Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor, the Lightning's best, were a combined 8-for-19, and the team lost six of 18 faceoffs in the defensive zone.

"You can't play catchup hockey," Richards said. "Maybe at the start of the year we won a few games by coming back when teams weren't solidified yet and everybody was still kind of starting the season.

"But in January you're not going to come back from three goals. It doesn't matter what team you are, anybody can beat anybody in this league."

What made this game so frustrating was that Tampa Bay got off to a strong start, as it peppered Turek with four quick shots. Too bad it lasted just 2:43, when defenseman Stan Neckar was called for interference and bad things began happening.

Actually, bad things began a tad earlier when defenseman Dan Boyle lost the puck in the defensive zone, starting the sequence that led to Neckar's penalty.

That led to a goal by Gelinas, who easily tapped in a rebound at 2:59 after Khabibulin saved Chris Drury's shot.

It was 2-0 at 6:08 on a goal by Yelle, who backhanded his own rebound past Khabibulin after the goalie stopped a wraparound try.

Iginla made it 3-0 with 1:50 left on a wrist shot from in-close with 11 seconds left on a five-on-three with Vinny Prospal and Cory Sarich in the penalty box for hooking.

"As a team we were ready," Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay said. "But we let a couple of things that went against us bother us. ... "The players want to get that sorted out and not allow these things to happen. We have to stay focused on what we need to do as a team no matter what happens around us. We can't let a bad break or anything else affect us."


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