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Lightning lead slips away

ISLANDERS 5, LIGHTNING 2: Down 2-0 in the second, New York ties it late in the period then scores three in the third.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published December 10, 2003

photo
[AP photo]
The Islanders' Adrian Aucoin lands on Cory Stillman in the third period of the Lightning's 5-2 loss.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - It was difficult to determine the exact mix of circumstances in that crazy 2 minutes, 46 seconds of Tuesday night's game between the Lightning and the Islanders.

Was it a few unfortunate bounces that sunk Tampa Bay, or was it a lack of focus in a crucial situation? Was it New York's energy that turned things around, or was it just dumb luck?

However you look at it, that stretch in which the Islanders scored twice in the final five minutes of the second period to wipe out a two-goal Tampa Bay lead was key to New York's 5-2 victory at the Nassau Coliseum.

The loss ended the Lightning's two-game win streak and, for the moment anyway, what appeared to be the start of a resurgence after a 0-4-2 streak.

Worse. Tampa Bay had its foot on New York's throat and let it up to score five consecutive goals, including Radek Martinek's winner 3:19 into the third. "That's the way this game is. It's all emotion, and the game shifts just like that," Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt said. "They got some energy and got buzzing, and all of a sudden, it's a different game."

One in which coach John Tortorella wasn't going to cut his players any slack.

"We gave them two freebies," he said. "I don't care what the bounces are. Our positioning was bad. We weren't strong on the puck in an important part of the game. When it was 2-0, they were dead in the water, and we allowed them to get back in. And that's why they won the hockey game."

It seemed everything was going the Lightning's way after it took a 2-0 lead on Pavel Kubina's five-on-three goal 9:11 into the second period and Ruslan Fedotenko's first goal in 13 games at 13:21.

But goals by Trent Hunter and Shawn Bates with 4:26 and 1:40 left tied it and launched New York's onslaught.

Let's follow the bouncing puck.

Hunter benefited from a strange bounce off the stick of Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich, and Bates took advantage of bounces off Pratt's skate and Brad Richards' stick.

Hunter lost the puck on a spin move trying to avoid Lukowich, who was between Hunter and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. But when it bounced back to him, even after he had moved away from the play, he had an easy shot for a goal.

On the second goal, Hunter regained the puck near the Lightning blue line after it bounced off Pratt's skate. His subsequent pass deflected off Richards' stick, through Fedotenko's legs and right to Bates, who one-timed the puck past Khabibulin.

"To get those goals late in the second period turned everything around for the team," Hunter said. "And we came out flying in the third period."

The goals highlighted a terrific effort by the line of Hunter, Bates and Michael Peca, which had eight points, including six assists.

It was the second straight victory for New York, which looked nothing like the team that before that had lost seven in a row. The Lightning scored a power-play goal for the second straight game and killed off five short-handed situations to up its streak to 16.

Richards had two assists. Dave Andreychuk's assist on Kubina's goal gave him points in four consecutive games, and Martin Cibak's tireless forechecking effort led directly to Fedotenko's goal.

But Vinny Lecavalier could not beat goalie Garth Snow on a first-period breakaway, and Cory Stillman was minus-3.

Then there were the final 25 minutes, when Tampa Bay looked nothing like the team that answered challenges during road victories against the Sabres and Rangers to stop a six-game winless streak.

"We're up 2-0 and maybe there's a little loss of focus there late," Pratt said. "We've just got to be ready."

"We've got to overcome that," Andreychuk said. "That's part of winning in this league. Those two goals, they got momentum from that, and we didn't get it back."

A totally unsatisfying mix.

[Last modified December 10, 2003, 01:34:25]

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