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Pressure's on!

But don't think that changes the Lightning's approach. The team got this far didn't it? "This series is not done," Tortorella says.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 2, 2003

[Times photos: Dirk Shadd]
Lightning goal Nikolai Khabibulin falls to his knees as Tim Taylor and the Devil's Jamie Langenbrunner fight during Game 4 Wednesday.
Lightning coach John Tortorella talks to his team during the Capitals series.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Let's get one thing straight, Lightning coach John Tortorella said.

Okay, he didn't really say that. It just seemed that way with his narrowed eyes, the determined tone of his voice and conviction of his words.

So let's throw it in there as a preamble to the coach's take on Game 5 of the East semifinals against the Devils tonight at Continental Airlines Arena and see what happens.

Let's get one thing straight . . .

"We can beat them there," Tortorella said. "Nothing has changed as far as our approach. Make sure you understand that. Nothing has changed there. This series is not done."

And another thing (he didn't say that either) . . .

"I have no doubt we're going to keep this series going."

Really, that is all Tampa Bay should be thinking about at this point - one game, keeping it going - because the big picture looks pretty bleak.

The Lightning trails the Devils 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. That means Tampa Bay has to win three straight to keep its season alive, and that has happened only 18 times in the NHL playoffs.

And dig this. No team has come back from 2-0 deficits in seven-game series more than once in any season. The Lightning did it against the Capitals in the quarterfinals.

"That's a big part of what (tonight's) game is," Tortorella said. "Do you look at the light at the end of the tunnel and say, "It's enough,' or do you say, "Let's extend this thing?' I believe our guys are really looking forward to the opportunity.

"We've been together as a group too long to just go out there and play it out. We consider that this is going to be a long series, and I believe we're going to go up there and win that hockey game and bring it back (to Tampa for Game 6)."

A few things need to change if that is to happen. First, Tampa Bay must return to the aggressive, hard-skating style that sparked a 4-3 victory in Game 4.

Not easy. New Jersey's trapping system puts up many roadblocks. But that is when a few body checks and an aggressive forecheck can shake up things. A little more focus completing passes and keeping control of the puck wouldn't hurt either.

And does it really have to be said again? Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has to be better. And the Lightning has to find a way to get shots at, and traffic in front of, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur.

"We have to have a lot more desperation," center Tim Taylor said. "If guys aren't scoring, they'd better be checking."

"We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing," center Brad Richards said. "No one expected us to come this far. Just give it one last shot and bring it back (to Tampa). If we can do that, we can cause a lot of trouble."

Devils center John Madden said teams with nothing to lose are "dangerous."

"We're in good position but the series is far from over," he said. "We've watched Tampa Bay win four in a row off Washington. I was very surprised to see that so I give a lot of respect to them and would not count them out of the series by any stretch."

Lightning players got away from hockey. A previously planned day off gave the players a chance to sleep late before getting on the team plane to New Jersey. There was no practice, no video session (maybe a few video games instead), a team dinner and more than a flicker of hope. Leading 3-1 and playing at home, the Devils are probably expected to win. A loss gives the Lightning confidence and Game 6 Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"This could be our last game, so let's give everything we have," Taylor said. "Empty the cells, so to speak, and make sure we leave everything on the ice. If we win, we're rejuvenated for Game 6."

"I know they don't want it to end," Tortorella said. "We know what we have to do. There's no reason we can't go in there and beat 'em there, and it changes everything."

Is that straight?

Today's lineup


  • Pressure's on!
  • Invincible to invisible in just 1 series
  • Tonight: Lightning at Devils
  • Top players stumble

  • Bucs
  • Phillips has to grow up fast

  • Rays
  • Defensive lapses no laughing matter
  • Easley carrying on after Motor City run
  • Up next: Detroit Tigers

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  • In brief
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  • NBA
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  • NFL
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  • NHL
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  • Outdoors
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  • Preps
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