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Standing tall in Philly

LIGHTNING 2, FLYERS 1: Khabibulin wins again; Tampa Bay goes 3-0 vs. rival.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 3, 2004

[AP photo]
Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who made 18 saves for his second straight victory, celebrates with Pavel Kubina, who contributed a goal.

PHILADELPHIA - He did not make a lot of saves. He did not have to be acrobatic.

So there were no ooohs and aaahs when discussing how well goalie Nikolai Khabibulin played during Monday night's 2-1 victory over the Flyers at the Wachovia Center.

Just the recognition he took another step in reclaiming his game.

"My timing was better," Khabibulin said. "I saw the puck through the traffic, and that helps."

"You judge the goalie at the time of the game and what's going on and what the score is and those important saves," coach John Tortorella said. "Nik came up with them tonight. Tonight he stood tall."

The result: Tampa Bay tied franchise records with a six-game winning streak and four-game streak on the road. It has a 13-point lead in the Southeast.

And how about the 12-2-0-2 record in its past 16 games, the 11-6-1-1 record in its past 19 on the road and the 14th road victory that ties last season?

"We are playing great right now," defenseman Pavel Kubina said.

There was more than Khabibulin's 18 saves. Goals by Kubina and Ruslan Fedotenko 1:42 apart in the second period overcame a 1-0 deficit. The penalty kill was impressive in the first when it did not allow a shot while shrugging off Martin St. Louis' double minor for high-sticking.

And there should be a how-to video made of the final 10 seconds in which captain Dave Andreychuk battled two opponents along the boards to keep the puck out of harm's way.

But when it came right down to it, Khabibulin's second straight victory, and that he allowed one goal in each, was paramount. And it further distanced him from a recent four-game stretch in which he lost three while allowing 19 goals.

"He played great the whole 60 minutes," Kubina said. "He's playing with confidence."

It was evident in the third period when he stoned Michal Handzus from in front of the net and made a crucial stick save on Tony Amonte with 1:30 remaining. That came during the final, scary five minutes in which the Flyers swarmed the Lightning zone.

The Flyers outshot the Lightning 9-3 in the period, but Tampa Bay clogged the middle and kept most of the shots from outside.

"These games really tell you a lot about your team," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "These are emotional digging-in games. Tampa Bay defended with passion."

It also took advantage of an injury to Flyers goalie Robert Esche, who left with a sprained left knee at 5:23 of the second period, about three minutes after teammate Simon Gagne slid into him trying to break up a three-on-one.

Neil Little, called up Friday from AHL Philadelphia and in his first NHL game this season, allowed goals on his first two shots. Kubina scored his career-high 12th on the power play at 7:00. Fedotenko scored his 11th and fifth in eight games at 8:42.

Tampa Bay is 3-0 this season against the Flyers, 2-0 at the Wachovia Center and guaranteed to win the four-game series. It is the first time the Lightning has won the season series.

"We're just trying to play our game and win," Tortorella said. "That's the only message we're trying to send."

It didn't hurt that Khabibulin sent a little message of his own.

[Last modified February 3, 2004, 01:30:33]

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