Lightning's late goal puts away energetic Caps
By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
LIGHTNING 4, CAPITALS 2: After giving away a 2-0 lead, Cory Stillman wins it with 3:29 left.
Published February 29, 2004
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
|The Capitals' Jeff Halpern gets a taste of Fredrik Modin's stick. Modin, who was penalized on the play, scored the Lightning's first two goals.
TAMPA - The Capitals figured to be one of the luckiest teams in the league when part of the Atlantic Division was recast into the Southeast before the 1998-99 season.
Coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup final, they seemingly had only two recent expansion teams, the Lightning and Panthers, a Hurricanes team relocated from Hartford and a few distracting road trips to some tenuous Southern markets keeping them from an automatic third seed in the playoffs for the foreseeable future.
Now among the worst teams in the league and trading valuable parts on the open market, the Capitals deal in further-off futures. After winning the Southeast title last season and running off with another, the Lightning's future might be now.
And it gets better. The third seed might not be good enough anymore. With a 4-2 victory over the Capitals on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning earned its 82nd point, two fewer than East-leading Ottawa and Philadelphia, on whom the Lightning has one and two games in hand, respectively. No Southeast team except the 1999-2000 Capitals has entered the playoffs seeded second.
Fredrik Modin scored twice, and Cory Stillman shouldered in the winner with 3:29 left after Brad Richards' shot hit the pipe as the Lightning won its fifth consecutive home game and earned a point for the 24th time in its past 26. Martin St. Louis added an empty-netter with 10.3 seconds left to take the league points lead with 75.
Nikolai Khabibulin, despite allowing a soft goal to tie it in the third, made enough big stops, including one on a close shot by Anson Carter in the final two minutes, to win his fourth consecutive start. He made 21 saves.
"We knew this was going to be a battle," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "These are the games we have to learn how to win, and we did win."
That seemed in doubt until Stillman intercepted an errant pass at the Washington blue line and started the winning sequence by dishing left to Richards.
Stillman raced to the net to draw defenders away from Richards and was approaching the crease when Richards' shot caromed off the top right post, hit Stillman's shoulder and rolled past goaltender Sebastien Charpentier.
After a quick review by video officials, Stillman was awarded his 21st goal, and the Lightning gained control for the first time since the end of the first period.
"Sometimes, you can hem and haw whether it's going in or not," said Stillman, who finished plus-3. "I didn't hit it with my hand, and as long as you don't hit it with your hand or throw it in, it's going to be a goal. I was confident it was going to be a goal."
Washington's Alexander Semin had tied it 8:44 into the third on a goal that appeared to slide through defenseman Pavel Kubina then fool Khabibulin.
His sixth of the season capped a Capitals run made more impressive by the recent trades of sniper Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang, the league's second-leading scorer, and absence of scratched top defenseman Sergei Gonchar and rested No. 1 goaltender Olaf Kolzig. Dainius Zubrus scored the Capitals' first goal 11:16 into the second.
"Albeit quite a bit of talent has been moved out of there, it's funny what happens," Tortorella said, "how close you get to try and get through it and find a way."
Modin gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 9:14 into the game, five seconds after a power play ended, when he took a pass from Stillman, angled in from the right and tucked his 20th of the season into the near high corner. Modin added another 5:48 later, beating the Capitals' Brian Willsie to a gift bounce off a long Dan Boyle pass against the backboards and hacking a second chance through.
Though it proved more difficult than the first period indicated, the Lightning ultimately proved a point.
"It's been said in the past this is a weak division and whoever wins it should be a lower seed because they don't have as many points as some of the other (playoff teams in other divisions)," center Tim Taylor said. "But this year, were trying to prove that's not so."
[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]
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