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Fighting chance nets tie

LIGHTNING 3, DEVILS 3: Mixing it up helps Tampa Bay erase a 3-0 deficit.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


TAMPA -- Finesse just wasn't doing it, so the Lightning took off the gloves Saturday night -- literally.

Tampa Bay trailed 3-0, All-Star goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin had been chased (having given up two New Jersey goals 25 seconds apart early in the second period) and the Lightning seemed to be sleepwalking its way to a loss. Then enforcers Chris Dingman and Andre Roy woke up their teammates with a couple of timely fights.

By the end of the middle period Tampa Bay was down by only one goal and Martin St. Louis capped the comeback to a 3-3 tie with the Devils midway in the third period.

"Me and Andre, I think that's part of our job," Dingman said of the fights that woke up not only the Lightning but the crowd of 15,842 in the St. Pete Times Forum. "We try to do something whether it's a fight or a hit, whatever. I think maybe the guys said, 'Hey, let's get it going. These guys are willing to fight.' The guys did a great job of responding."

Dingman picked a fight with a very willing Turner Stevenson less than a minute after Jim McKenzie's slap shot from the top of the right circle sailed over Khabibulin's glove and sent him to the bench, to be replaced by Kevin Hodson.

"I just asked Stevenson if he could go," Dingman said. "Sometimes coaches don't like their guys to fight when their team's up by a bunch of goals, but I asked him if he could fight and he said, 'Yeah.' "

It could have been more entertaining; they each threw one punch during the clutching and grabbing before falling to the ice.

Three seconds later, Roy and McKenzie went at it, alternating punches, and Roy's helmet flew off. That fight, too, was a split decision.

"I think Andre did a good job, too," Dingman said. "Him and McKenzie just kind of said, 'Hey, let's get it going.' "

Coach John Tortorella said fighting often changes the momentum of a game.

"That was a big part of it," he said. "From that point on it seemed like we picked up our game. I think (the Lightning) saw two guys trying to stir things up and get us turned around.

"I think the chemistry is very good and when you get into a situation like that, it shows you where the chemistry is, how they feel about one another. ... The coaching staff will never tell a player (to fight). It's totally disrespectful. But I think Andre and Dinger understand their role."

Tortorella obviously appreciated the effort, giving each a pat and handshake when they returned to the bench. "He's an honest coach," Dingman said. "He played the game and he appreciates that. It's nice to have a coach who will come over and say, 'Good job.' "

With 2:05 to play in the third period, defenseman Cory Sarich, who made it 3-2 with 4:48 to go in the second, stepped out of the penalty box and flattened New Jersey defenseman Colin White, skating down the left boards with the puck, his head down. White leaped up and began swinging at Sarich.

White got instigating and fighting penalties plus a game misconduct, but the expected Lightning power play didn't materialize; Sarich was also given an interference-obstruction penalty and a fighting major.

With 53 seconds to go in the third, Tampa Bay got its man advantage which became a four on three with Jamie Langenbrunner's double minor extending into overtime. The Lightning controlled the play, putting three shots on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, but couldn't score the winner.

Two minutes after the Dingman and Roy fights, the comeback began. Pavel Kubina passed to Vinny Prospal, then headed for the net. Prospal fed it back and Kubina beat Brodeur at 5:25. Ten minutes later, Ruslan Fedotenko carried the puck down the boards and passed behind the net to Sarich, whose shot beat Brodeur eight seconds after the end of a Scott Niedermayer penalty.

When the third period began, Khabibulin was back. "He's our man. That's why he went back in," Tortorella said. "He made some big saves. His coming out had nothing to do with his play. It had to do with the team's play. I didn't want him lit up. At that point it looked like we were going to lose 6-0, 7-0."


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