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Captain and team on track

LIGHTNING 3, SABRES 1: Dave Andreychuk scores again and Tampa Bay wins for the first time in seven games.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published December 7, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Lindy Ruff was kidding ... really.

When the Sabres coach was asked if he was surprised Dave Andreychuk is playing at 40 and in his 22nd NHL season, Ruff deadpanned, "He must be pumping more Motrin and stuff now. Get rid of the arthritis."

Andreychuk did more on pure adrenaline Saturday night. Playing in front of 70 family and friends in the city in which he began his career and still has a home, the Lightning captain scored the winner in Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory at the HSBC Center.

"It is still special," Andreychuk said. "Nothing against the team, but I just enjoy coming back and playing in front of family and friends."

And he excelled in a game in which, as he said, "Obviously, we needed a win."

The Lightning snapped its six-game winless streak (0-4-2) and three-game losing streak. It also was the first game in eight in which the goal-starved team scored more than twice.

Andreychuk, whose goal under sprawled goalie Martin Biron broke a tie at 1 with 9:30 left in the second period, was not alone.

Nikolai Khabibulin was superb and made 37 saves, including two on breakaways, to snap a four-game winless streak. Dmitry Afanasenkov scored his first goal since the opener with 6.8 seconds left in the first period to tie the score at 1 off a terrific, diving poke pass from Chris Dingman.

Fredrik Modin scored a crucial third-period goal that gave the Lightning breathing room. And Shane Willis had two assists.

That despite a first period in which Tampa Bay was outshot 13-7 and coach John Tortorella called "one of the worst periods I've seen this hockey team play since I've been here.

"Having said that," he added, "I thought our team really stood tall to find a way to get some energy and play some gritty hockey."

Not everything went smoothly.

Defenseman Dan Boyle and Ben Clymer were lost in the second because of concussions. Clymer went out after a fight with Dmitri Kalinin. Boyle went down with 1:39 left after he was thrown head-first into the side boards by Sabres right wing Ales Kotalik.

Boyle crumbled to the ice and stayed down for about three minutes. Sabres doctor Steve Jenson was called out, and Boyle skated off while being steadied by Lightning medical trainer Tommy Mulligan.

Boyle declined comment. But Tortorella said the hit did not warrant a penalty.

"It was a dangerous, dangerous play because Danny was 3 feet off the wall and had just made a pass and he was hit on the side," the coach said. "But I didn't think it was a penalty."

Lightning left wing Ruslan Fedotenko said he was not sure what happened. But when he saw his teammate on the ice, he said he had to take action and went after Kotalik.

"I saw he was just going into the boards awkwardly," Fedotenko said. "I assumed it was a bad hit. Just sticking up for a player."

Andreychuk struggled on faceoffs, losing 15 of 24. But he scored his third goal of the season, second in as many games and 616th of his career from his natural spot in front of the net.

He also played 21:01, tops among Tampa Bay forwards and almost five minutes more than his average.

"It's beyond me why I have to play him 21 minutes," Tortorella said. "If we can't learn a lesson from that guy, our young players, then we are blind. We've been asking people to step up and say, "Follow me.' I think Andy was trying to make a statement tonight."

Maybe even to himself. Andreychuk had not scored in 14 games before Thursday against the Senators.

"I've been staying in front of the net a little bit more," he said. "Getting some shots. Keeping it simple."

"Once you get him in front of the net, I don't know if there are many better competitors as far as hand-eye coordination," Ruff said.

He wasn't kidding.

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