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Top scorers could use help

But there is little outward concern among players who haven't scored, as long as the Lightning keeps winning.

By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 20, 2003

TAMPA -- Believe it or not, the Lightning really is playing with 18 skaters in this series against the Capitals. We counted.

Of course, you have to count them on the ice. If you count them on the score sheet, you might think the Lightning is using only three skaters.

The Lightning has nine goals in the past three games, all victories, and all nine have come from the line of Vinny Lecavalier, Vinny Prospal and Martin St. Louis.

All nine. Three guys.

The three are connecting for Tampa Bay as much as the Howard Frankland, the Courtney Campbell and the Gandy.

"We're going to run with them," Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said. "They're hot. We might as well ride them."

But there are two ways to look at this. Either the Lightning has an unstoppable line that will carry it into the next round. Or it's only a matter of time before the Caps figure out a way to shut down the line and knock the Lightning out of the playoffs.

"I don't think one line can carry the load, it's impossible," St. Louis said. "We need everybody to contribute in order to win."

The past three games, though, have proved otherwise. And as long as the Lightning is winning, it doesn't care if Phil Esposito comes out of retirement and scores the goals.

Goals are goals are goals, no matter who scores them.

"Hey, we're winning games," Lightning forward Fredrik Modin said. "We're not going to be digging holes, saying, 'Oh, this really stinks because we only have one line scoring.' We're winning hockey games scoring goals and that's all we are really worried about, not who is scoring them."

This is how hockey works, the Lightning says. This is how good teams play. Occasionally one line scores all the goals. Sometimes a goalie carries a team. Sometimes one player gets a hot hand for a week or two and then passes the baton to someone else for a while.

Eventually, over time, everyone contributes. Right now, one line is doing all the scoring. Coach John Tortorella said that's fine as long as everyone else is doing their jobs, particularly on the defensive end, and creating chances.

"The other lines are getting good chances," St. Louis said. "As long as you get the chances, you know it's close."

Sounds good coming from someone scoring. The players who aren't, such as Brad Richards (no goals in the series), see it differently.

"It's great what the other line is doing, but there's no way you can win in the playoffs with one line every game," Richards said. "Eventually, someone is going to shut you down, or shut them down."

If one game was ripe for shutting down the Lightning's scalding line, it is today. The Caps, as the home team, have the last line change, meaning they can get the matchup they want against the Lightning's top line. And it's likely the Caps have dedicated most of the past 36 hours trying to come up with an antidote to wipe out Lecavalier, St. Louis and Prospal.

"I think if they're getting shut down in certain games, we need other guys to step up," Andreychuk said. "Bottom line, though, is we win games no matter who scores the goals. As long as you're scoring goals, what does it matter?"

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