LIGHTNING 4, COYOTES 0: That's all Tampa Bay needs thanks to Vinny Lecavalier (hat trick) and Nikolai Khabibulin.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003
PHOENIX -- Lightning players and coaches have insisted on taking this season one game at a time. Looking ahead, even though Tampa Bay is closing in on its first playoff berth since 1996, was as bad as looking back.
But after Saturday's 4-0 win over the Coyotes at America West Arena, the Lightning's next game could put it into the postseason.
Tampa Bay has 86 points. The Rangers are the lone team in the East not in the playoff-bound top eight which can catch the Lightning. A win or a tie for Tampa Bay on Monday against San Jose does the trick. Tampa Bay also can get in if New York loses a point, but the Rangers don't play until Wednesday against the Penguins.
Also, Tampa Bay extended its Southeast Division lead to three with Washington's 5-3 loss at Edmonton.
Coach John Tortorella kept up appearances.
"I don't care," he said. "Who do we have next, San Jose? That's all we're looking at."
But captain Dave Andreychuk said it was probably all right to finally talk about earning the team's second playoff trip in its 11-year history.
"It's very exciting," he said. "This is what we've been working for. But I get the feeling in this (locker) room that the guys won't be satisfied just to be there. They feel they can beat any team. But we still have to get that point."
That always is easier when Vinny Lecavalier is on his game. The center had a natural hat trick with two power-play goals and one shorthanded. He also had an assist.
Andreychuk scored a power-play goal and had an assist, and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made 21 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, 32nd career.
Some big numbers highlighted the effort in which Tampa Bay extended its unbeaten streak to a team-record eight (5-0-3).
Andreychuk's first-period winner was his 19th goal, 612th of his career and record 259 on the power play. Lecavalier has 71 points, four more than his previous high. Khabibulin extended his personal best and team high unbeaten streak to 10-0-2.
Special teams also were key. The Lightning killed three penalties, including a five-minute slashing major to Fredrik Modin, who also received a game misconduct. And two power play goals gave the Lightning 13 in its past 38 chances (34.2 percent).
The high point was shutting down the Coyotes during Modin's penalty. The Lightning, 12-2-5 in its past 19 games including 5-1-3 on the road, did not allow a shot and preserved a 1-0 second-period lead.
"That was key," Tortorella said. "It could have changed the momentum if they scored. That's an important part of the game."
Modin would not talk about what prompted his slash, but it was clear it was in response to a cross check by defenseman Brad Ference. Modin took a swing at Ference's stick and knocked it from his hands. Modin said he was not trying to hit Ference.
"If I was trying to hit him, I would have got him," Modin said. "My first thought was to hit him, but I held back and swung at his stick. It was bad putting the guys down for five minutes but I'm glad they killed it off."
It was a good thing Lecavalier finally got it in his head to shoot the puck.
He had an open shot early in the second, waited too long and had it deflected. His first goal was a wrist shot that beat goalie Brian Boucher over his glove.
His next goal gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead 6:01 into the third period.
The shorthanded goal finished the scoring at 15:57.
"He shot the puck," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say."
As for the playoffs, he left that kind of talk to his players.