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Playoffs get nearer after rally

LIGHTNING 2, CANADIENS 1: Tampa Bay continues its torrid pace and puts a pursuer farther back.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003

MONTREAL -- Ben Clymer could not have picked a better time to break out of a scoring slump.

The right wing's goal with 9:34 left Saturday night was his first in 14 games, gave the Lightning a 2-1 victory over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre and inched the team closer to its first playoff berth since 1996.

The Lightning has 82 points, three ahead of the Capitals in the Southeast. Tampa Bay also increased to 12 the gap between itself and Montreal, which is ninth in the East, one spot out of the postseason.

The Lightning has 10 games left, the Canadiens nine. Assuming Montreal stays there, the best it can do is 88 points. That means any combination of seven points gained by Tampa Bay or lost by Montreal puts the Lightning in the playoffs. Alexander Svitov's fourth goal of the season tied the score at 1 with 5:13 left in the second period, and Nikolai Khabibulin made 23 saves to increase his unbeaten streak to 9-0-2, a personal and team record.

The only shot he failed to stop was Jan Bulis' rebound 8:17 into the second period.

Clymer's goal, his sixth, came on a deflection of Brad Lukowich's shot.

He got the puck from Vinny Lecavalier, who got it from Vinny Prospal after a clearing pass from the Lightning zone hit linesman Stephane Provost in the neutral zone.

Tampa Bay's 12th road victory is one better than last season's total. The Lightning has won four of its past five road games and is 11-2-3 in its past 16 overall.

A spirited first period saw both teams with good scoring chances but nothing to show for it. The Canadiens did put a puck in the net but the apparent goal at 9:25, scored by Marcel Hossa, was ruled a high stick.

The play began with Andrei Markov's shot from the point that Khabibulin saved. The puck bounced straight up and Hossa whacked at it, catching the puck above the crossbar.

Tampa Bay got rolling early as Brad Richards got a half-step on a defender in the Canadiens zone off a lofted clearing pass from defenseman Nolan Pratt. Richards' backhander hit the post 40 seconds into the game.

Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore had to be sharp at 3:29 during a consistent Lightning shift. Theodore stopped Pavel Kubina's shot from the high slot and Kubina's rebound try after the defenseman tracked down the puck in a corner. Theodore held his position as Martin St. Louis had a shot at the rebound.

Theodore was sharp again at 12:50 while stopping Dan Boyle's shot from the high slot. The rebound went into the slot where Andre Roy was hindered just enough by a defender and was unable to get to the rebound.

The second period went in waves. The Canadiens rode them in the first half of the period (except for one shift by Richards' line in which Theodore made four saves without a stick) and took a 1-0 lead on Bulis' goal. Tampa Bay rode them in the second half and tied the score on Svitov's goal at 14:47.

Bulis' goal began in the Lightning zone when Ruslan Fedotenko fell trying to coral the puck in a corner. That resulted in a Canadiens four-on-two.

Some crisp passing gave Saku Koivu the puck in the slot. Khabibulin saved the wrist shot but was handcuffed, and the rebound popped to the goalie's right and right to Bulis. Khabibulin's outstretched right leg caught a piece of Bulis' shot but the puck jumped over his leg into the goal.

The Lightning almost tied it a minute later, but Roy's slap shot squarely hit the post to Theodore's long side. Theodore stopped St. Louis' breakaway try at 12:52 that came after a defender fell down in the defensive zone.

Svitov's terrific effort tied the score. The rookie center came out from behind the Montreal net, protected the puck with his body, turned to his right and got off a zippy wrist shot that beat Theodore to the long side.

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