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Deficit turns to inspiring win

LIGHTNING 5, CANADIENS 3: inny Lecavalier's goal with 5:04 left caps a comeback from two down.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 13, 2004

TAMPA - Sometimes nothing needs to be said. Sometimes silence says it all.

Lightning players described their locker room as a bleak place after the first period of Thursday night's game with the Canadiens.

Tampa Bay had played one of its worst periods of the season and trailed by two. Yet no one spoke up. No one did the rah-rah thing. Nobody, as it turned out, needed to.

"We just kept coming," center Brad Richards said.

And when it counted most. When the game was on the line, "We just took over the third period."

The result: Four goals on 23 shots, which tied a franchise record, to cap an uplifting 5-3 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"Our team has grown and our team has learned a lot," Richards said. "At the same time we weren't ready to play. But we battled back. It's funny the way things happen when you keep working."

This was a character victory.

It came after some adversity on Tuesday, when the team tied the Maple Leafs after losing a two-goal, third-period lead. And it came after a first period in which the Lightning seemed to be rubbing the sleep out of its eyes while Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov staked Montreal to a 2-0 lead.

"It shows character in the players," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. "The way we came back and the way we did it, that gains momentum for the team."

Momentum came from many quarters. Vinny Lecavalier scored the winner with 5:04 left in the third, 1:19 after Richards tied it at 3. Richards, playing in his 300th game, also scored an empty-netter with 15.4 seconds remaining.

Lecavalier also had two assists. And Martin St. Louis scored Tampa Bay's first two and tied it 4:44 into the third with his 27th goal that deflected in off the skate of Koivu.

Lightning goalie John Grahame had 22 saves to win his fifth consecutive start and 10th in his past 12. He surely wants back Jan Bulis' goal that gave Montreal a 3-2 lead at 7:45 of the third, but that, as it turned out, only enhanced the drama.

"When we have the lead we're not confident going for another goal," said Koivu, who had a goal and two assists. "It seems like we're defending too much and the other team gets the momentum."

"Just winning against Montreal is a big thing for me," said Lecavalier, who is from the suburb of Ile Bizard. "I go home in the summer and hang out with those guys and I can rub it in their faces as a joke."

There was no joking about Lecavalier's impact, and the impact of his line, which includes St. Louis and Ruslan Fedotenko, who had three assists and played what coach John Tortorella called "one of his better games in a while."

Lecavalier's patience with the puck and crisp pass set up St. Louis' first goal. And he not only was in front of the net to tip in the winner off Darryl Sydor's shot, he won the faceoff to start the play.

Then there was Richards, who before his first goal had hit the crossbar, missed the net from the slot after a beautiful short-handed setup from St. Louis and had a goal disallowed when a video review showed it bounced away after hitting the point where the crossbar and post meet.

"You have to give the guys high marks," Tortorella said. "They stayed with it and just kept coming."

Tampa Bay outshot Montreal 23-4 in the third and 41-25 overall to gain just its second victory when trailing after two (2-13-2-0). It also stayed six points behind the Leafs for second in the East.

There was something to be learned as well.

"The first few minutes was just not the way we play," Tortorella said. "We lost every battle. It's a good lesson as to how you have to be prepared every night. We just weren't in it, but we found a way."

Quietly ... until the third period.

[Last modified February 13, 2004, 01:45:34]

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