BLUES 4, LIGHTNING 3 (OT): Khabibulin accepts blame after he allows two soft shots to go through in the third.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 20, 2004
ST. LOUIS - Nikolai Khabibulin looked straight ahead, didn't flinch and accepted the blame.
The Lightning goaltender said he felt the same in the third period of Thursday night's game against the Blues as he did in the first two, when he was solid as can be. The difference was, "I just didn't make the stops that we needed."
The result: a 4-3 overtime loss at the Savvis Center.
Tampa Bay got a point for the regulation tie. And give defenseman Pavel Kubina credit for an opportunistic goal with 7:19 remaining in the third period to tie the score at 3.
But that came after St. Louis scored two third-period goals, both softies, that erased a 2-1 Tampa Bay lead. And Doug Weight's winner 1:06 into the extra period came after Khabibulin misdirected Eric Weinrich's shot from the blue line.
"I probably didn't put it where I wanted it," Khabibulin said.
The rebound went directly to Weight, who scored his third overtime winner and gave the Blues their franchise-record ninth overtime victory.
The Lightning lost its three-game winning streak.
"The way we have been playing, we'd like to win every game," wing Cory Stillman said.
"To have a lead and lose it going into the third ... we have to learn to play with a lead."
Said defenseman Jassen Cullimore: "We should have won."
That would have been so nice for the Lightning.
Not only because the Blues scored twice in the third period of the teams' first meeting to forge a 2-2 tie, but because Tampa Bay could have erased a little history.
The Lightning has lost 10 consecutive games in St. Louis since winning Nov. 13, 1992, in the franchise's fourth game. It also has lost each of its 14 games against goaltender Chris Osgood.
And how memorable would it have been for Stillman? The wing, who Tampa Bay acquired from St. Louis last summer, said he took time to drive by his old house Wednesday.
He had a goal and an assist and was named the game's second star.
But darn it if history has a way of repeating.
Despite an equally shaky game from Osgood, the Blues, who entered ninth in the West and one spot out of the playoffs, won their third straight.
"They're desperate," Khabibulin said. "They're playing for a playoff spot. They played hard.
"That was really no surprise."
The Lightning played hard as well. Ruslan Fedotenko gave it the lead in the first period.
Stillman's goal with 5:23 left in the second reinstated the advantage after Christian Backman tied it early in the period with a slap shot.
But Khabibulin misplayed Eric Boguniecki's little backhander from the bottom of the faceoff circle 4:26 into the third. The puck hit the goalie's right arm, popped up and wafted into the net.
"It kind of floated," Khabibulin said. "I didn't expect it when it hit my blocker to go that way.
"By the time I realized it was going in the net, it was too late."
Khabibulin also was late closing his legs on Bryce Salvador's breakaway. The Blues defenseman offered no deception and simply fired low for his second goal of the season that gave St. Louis a 3-2 lead with 8:32 remaining.
Said Blues right wing Dallas Drake, who had three assists: "Against a team like them, you have to keep coming at them or they'll come at you and score."
That's just what seemed to happen 2:13 into the game, when Dan Boyle's shot deflected in off Stillman, who was cruising in front of the net. But referee Blaine Angus waived off the goal, saying Stillman intentionally directed the puck with his hand.
Replays seemed to agree, though Stillman said, "I think it hit me. ... I didn't know if we can go to the replay on that. We can't argue if he has made up his mind."
All in all though, coach John Tortorella called the game's result "a good point. They're a good hockey team."
The way Khabibulin saw it, it could have been so much more.