LIGHTNING 3, PENGUINS 1: Fourth victory in a row ends 4-1-0 trip, brings team back home in first place.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published January 14, 2004
Lightning right wing Dave Andreychuk (25) collides with Penguins goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin in the first. Andreychuk scored in the third.
PITTSBURGH - The final game of a road trip, especially a five-gamer such as the Lightning wrapped up Tuesday night, always is difficult.
Players are tired and eager to get home. Add a game against the worst team in the league - a team the Lightning scorched for nine goals the most recent time they played - and the dangers increase.
"We talked about all the things," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "We talked about all the things that could have allowed our team to be satisfied."
Instead, the Lightning was motivated and scored a 3-1 victory over the Penguins at Mellon Arena. Tampa Bay ended its trip 4-1-0 and for the first time won four consecutive games on one trip. Tampa Bay's 20th victory also gave it 47 points and a three-point cushion over the second-place Thrashers in the Southeast with two games in hand.
It put an exclamation point on a dramatic turnaround. The team that went 4-12-4 Nov. 23-Jan. 2 and was worried the playoff race was getting away from it has won five of its past six.
"This game made the difference of the road trip," left wing Cory Stillman said.
Goaltender John Grahame agreed.
"Four-and-one is a big difference from three-and-two," he said. "That's a very successful road trip. These are the games you look back on in April. These are the games you're glad you got it done."
Grahame, playing in his fourth consecutive game, got his fourth consecutive victory in which he allowed just one goal. He made just 12 saves as the Lightning allowed a season-low 13 shots.
Stillman's goal that snapped an 0-for-18 power-play slump and Brad Richards' goal 46 seconds later gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead 4:18 into the game. Dave Andreychuk scored with 2:53 left in the third.
"It was a focused group," Tortorella said. "It's a group right now that knows how we can be successful and understands the level of preparation and intensity that is needed. And when you start winning some games, the confidence grows. That's the biggest lesson, not giving in and looking to do it another way."
"They're a good team right now," Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. "They're going on all cylinders."
Ryan Malone made the score 2-1 with 4:33 left in the first period when he was left alone in front of the Lightning net. But that was Tampa Bay's only gaffe.
With the defense standing up smartly and the forwards creating back pressure, the Penguins had a brutal time getting though the neutral zone. Tortorella called "textbook" the third period in which Tampa Bay outshot Pittsburgh 14-2.
Grahame made some people nervous with his puck-handling. But Tortorella said the goalie made more good plays than bad.
"You have to live with it because that's his personality," the coach said. "He made some interesting plays tonight. We have to temper it a bit I guess is the right word, but he made some great plays getting us out of the zone. There were some scary moments, but the good plays outnumbered the scary ones."
No matter how rewarding the road trip, Lightning players were ready to leave winter in the northeast.
"It will be nice to get back to that Tampa weather," Grahame said.
For the Lightning, it has been nice to get back to winning.