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Lightning letdown averted

LIGHTNING 2, CANADIENS 2: Dave Andreychuk's power-play goal in the final minute helps salvage a crucial point.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2003

TAMPA -- Dave Andreychuk gave a wry smile when asked exactly where the puck hit his body.

It was an important point. The Lightning left wing scored an unassisted power-play goal Wednesday night with 54.2 seconds left in the third period to lift Tampa Bay to a 2-2 tie with the Canadiens. But it was his breakup of a Montreal clearing attempt that made the goal possible.

As it turned out, Andreychuk's best side was his backside.

"It hit me in the padded part," Andreychuk said with a laugh. "That was good."

There was a lot of good that came out of the game played before a boisterous announced crowd of 15,343 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The Lightning avoided a letdown after Monday's blowout of the Senators. Nikolai Khabibulin returned to elite form and stopped Saku Koivu's third-period penalty shot. And Ruslan Fedotenko scored a power-play goal to end a nine-game drought and tie the score at 1 in the second period.

On the playoff front, the Lightning is four points behind the first-place Capitals in the Southeast. Tampa Bay, the Canadiens, Islanders and Penguins are tied for the final two playoff spots in the East with 49 points.

"It's so tough this time of year to grab points," coach John Tortorella said. "To come away with something, especially coming back in the last minute, that's very important."

The point did not come without a price. Defenseman Stan Neckar, who has stepped up big-time during the absence of injured defenseman Jassen Cullimore, was lost in the second period with a groin strain. Tortorella said Neckar likely will not play Friday against the Stars or Saturday against the Predators.

Andreychuk was knocked down while taking the shot that beat goalie Jose Theodore on the short side. It was the 606th goal of his career and his NHL-best 255th on the power play.

It was Andreychuk blocking that clearing attempt that skidded around the top of the boards that so impressed Tortorella.

"I'd like to know how many young athletes in this game, right now, would hug the boards like Andy did and not care if it hits him in the teeth, nose, whatever," the coach said. "That's a tremendous lesson for our young guys. It's those little details that get you a point. That's old-time hockey. That's respecting the game."

The Lightning got a break when Pat Traverse was called for interference with 2:11 left in the third period. Khabibulin was pulled with 1:23 left to create a six-on-four advantage.

"It's another goal I didn't see go in," said Andreychuk, who has 13 this season, including 10 on the power play. "I knew where the net was. I was just trying to get the puck on goal."

"He was falling," said Theodore, who had 36 saves. "I didn't think he would have a decent shot. I went down a little early and he just picked the corner."

The goal might have been moot if not for Khabibulin, who made a series of dramatic saves and stopped Koivu's penalty shot with 9:54 left and Montreal ahead 2-1.

Koivu scored 6:14 into the second period to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead. But Khabibulin's sprawling leg save on the penalty shot, called when Fredrik Modin used his stick on Koivu during a breakaway, more than made up for it.

"I tried to wait for him to make the first move," Khabibulin said. "I tried to match his speed and create a good gap."

Tortorella hopes the Lightning is creating a little momentum. The team competed hard, something the coach tried to ensure by blowing up at his players during the morning skate, and outshot Montreal 36-28, including a 20-6 advantage in the second period.

"I think a lot of our guys showed up tonight," Tortorella said. "But some guys didn't. We're going to continue to beat that drum that you at least need to play with jam and intensity."

And, like Andreychuk, show one's best side.

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