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Top players stumble

By null
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 2, 2003

It has not been a good series for the Lightning's 70-point players.

Left wing Vinny Prospal, who had a team-high 79 points in the regular season, center Vinny Lecavalier (78), center Brad Richards (74) and right wing Martin St. Louis (70) have combined for three goals and five assists.

St. Louis has two goals and an assist. Richards has three assists, Lecavalier one assist and Prospal one goal.

"We're trying our best," Richards said. "We've just got to find ways to do it. You can't be complacent and happy with what you've done. If you leave it all on the ice, you can live with yourself when the season is over. That's what our guys have to do, not just the top guys but everybody. They have to look at themselves and say, "I left it all out there.' "

In many ways, Prospal has struggled as much as Lecavalier. He has just seven shots in the series and is minus-5.

"You don't just play one game against them and then play someone else," Prospal said of the Devils. "They did it to a pretty good line in the first series."

He's right. New Jersey held Bruins captain Joe Thornton, who had 101 regular-season points, to one goal in the five-game East quarterfinals.

Prospal said the criticism is not unexpected.

"You do well, you get the glory," he said. "You don't, you get the other part. I know the way it works."

Century plus 1

The Lightning has played 101 games: nine preseason, 82 regular season and 10 postseason.

"We're three weeks into the grind of our lives," center Tim Taylor said of the playoffs. "It's not surprising guys are going to get tired."

"It can't be thought of as a difficulty," coach John Tortorella said. "That's what playoff hockey is about. That's the lesson we're learning right now as far as the attrition of what has to be done."

Laukkanen joins the mix

Lightning defenseman Janne Laukkanen made his 2003 playoff debut Wednesday in place of injured Brad Lukowich. Laukkanen skated 22 shifts for 13 minutes, 22 seconds.

And felt every second.

"Toughest game I ever played," said Laukkanen, who saw game action for the first time since the regular-season finale on April 6 and for just the third time since being acquired March 11.

Though he appeared to make crisp passes and moved well, Laukkanen, 33, said his timing was off just a bit because the pace of a game is so much faster than practice. And it didn't help that, for the final eight minutes, the Lightning trailed by two.

"New Jersey, two goals down, and they push you so hard," he said.

Tampa fans the best, Taylor says

One of the reasons Taylor likes the Lightning's chances in Game 6 in Tampa - if the team can win Game 5 in New Jersey - is the fan support at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tampa Bay averaged announced crowds of 20,533 in five home playoff games.

"It's been awesome," Taylor said of the atmosphere. "It's one of the best rinks I've ever been in in the playoffs. The noise, the energy. You can play on intensity alone on what the fans are bringing to the game."

Small consolation

Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore netted his first career playoff goal Wednesday, tying the score at 1 midway through the first period. His shot from the blue line beat goaltender Martin Brodeur to the short side, aided by a screen from Fredrik Modin.

"I thought it would get us back in the game and it did there for a while," said Cullimore, a physical defenseman who rarely joins the offensive mix. "It's just a shame we didn't win. That's the main thing. Goals are great, but wins are what's important."

Three-letter word for confident ... P-E-N

Lightning defenseman Cory Sarich isn't spending much time these days reading hockey coverage in the daily newspaper. But he does appreciate the power of words.

"I skim, then I go straight to the crossword puzzle," he said.

Sarich, who works the puzzles with Lightning massage therapist Mike Griebel, does pretty well Monday through Saturday - "I work in pen" - but is not quite ready to tackle the king of crosswords, the Sunday New York Times puzzle.

"It's too big for me," he said.

Better late then never

Devils forwards Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias got their first goals of the playoffs in Wednesday's 3-1 victory. Though each was set up by a Tampa Bay turnover, neither was about to quibble over circumstances. The drought was over.

"It felt great," said Elias, who had a team-high 28 goals during the regular season. "I'm glad it finally happened for us."

Through New Jersey's first eight playoff games, checking forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and John Madden did the bulk of the scoring with seven and four goals, respectively.

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