St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning

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Lightning comes up short against Blues

BLUES 5, LIGHTNING 1: Two short-handed goals during the same power play leave Tampa Bay second in the Southeast.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Martin St. Louis stood in the hallway that led from the Lightning locker room to the ice at the Savvis Center. His elbow leaned on a pole. His head leaned into his hand.

Tampa Bay had just lost ugly for the second straight game, 5-1 to the Blues on Saturday, and the Lightning right wing said it is time for some soul-searching.

"As players," he said, "we have to look at ourselves in a mirror and realize if that's all we can bring for the next 40 games and be where we want to be, we're full of (expletive)." And though the players and coaches said they are not panicking, there certainly has to be concern. Especially after a game in which Tampa Bay lost all it built during a fine first period by allowing three goals during the second, including two short-handed in 78 seconds during the same power play.

It was the Lightning's third consecutive loss, and it extended the team's troubles on the road to 11 games (1-6-2-2).

Combined with the Capitals' tie with the Rangers, the Lightning is a point behind Washington in the Southeast though it remains one of the conference's eight playoff teams.

It was enough for captain Dave Andreychuk to sound a warning.

"We can't let this snowball," he said. "We have to stop this now."

At least the Lightning will be in more comfortable surroundings with its next three games at the St. Pete Times Forum against the Red Wings, Thrashers and Devils.

"Three games ago, we won two in a row at home and we won in dominating fashion (5-2 against Boston and 5-3 against the Rangers)," center Brad Richards said. "So three games later, it's not the end of the world. We go home for three, and that's huge, very huge."

It will be huge if the Lightning reverses some disturbing trends.

Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was pulled for the third time in his past 11 games after allowing four goals on 18 shots through 2:08 of the third period.

The penalty kill has allowed eight goals in its past 20 short-handed situations, and the power play has converted one of its past 19 opportunities on the road.

Not only that, it allowed the Blues two short-handed goals during the first two minutes of the second period, which started with the Lightning ahead 1-0 thanks to Andre Roy's sixth goal.

The first came 34 seconds in, when Richards started a sloppy breakout that continued with defenseman Dan Boyle giving up the puck to Marty Rucinsky. He passed to Petr Cajanek, who had free access to the offensive zone because the Lightning was out of position.

Cajanek fought off a desperate hook from Boyle and beat Khabibulin for a 1-1 tie.

Rucinsky scored at 1:52 off of a crazy bounce. Defenseman Pavel Kubina made a nice play to block Doug Weight's slap shot. But the puck bounced cross-ice to Rucinsky, who had an open net with which to work and give the Blues, who have beaten Tampa Bay nine in a row at home, a 2-1 lead.

"That second one, I've never seen anything like that," coach John Tortorella said.

The flurry changed the game.

"Especially the way our penalty killing has been up and down," said Blues right wing Dallas Drake, who scored St. Louis' third goal. "It helps everybody elevate their game and gets the blood flowing in your system."

One thing flowing through the Lightning's system is a lack of confidence. It showed on Alexander Khavanov's power-play goal 2:08 into the third period.

Khabibulin cleared the puck to an open area along the boards. Khavanov grabbed it and beat Khabibulin high for a 4-1 lead.

"I think teams go through stretches where things mount up against them," Tortorella said.

"Crazy goals go into your net, and everything builds on it. The only thing we can do is try to change that, try to force bounces our way. Maybe you have to hit rock bottom before you get better."

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