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Lightning barely stays hot

LIGHTNING 5, 'HAWKS 3: Tampa Bay gets a scare from the West's worst team before pulling it out.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 4, 2004

[AP photo]
APVinny Lecavalier beats Adam Munro to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead in the first.

CHICAGO - No one in the Lightning locker room was apologizing for the way they won Wednesday's game with the Blackhawks.

It wasn't artistic. And against the worst team in the West, one might have expected the ice to be tilted more toward the Tampa Bay end.

Whatever, the Lightning's nervous 5-3 victory at the United Center was just fine.

"I don't think we had a tremendous amount of energy," coach John Tortorella said. "That's the good news of finding a way to win when you're not dead on your game."

"Not our best," defenseman Cory Sarich said, "but two points."

Two points that rewarded Tampa Bay's first victory in Chicago since October 1997, a span of six games, and kept the team on top of the East and one point behind the Red Wings in the race for the President's Trophy.

Ruslan Fedotenko's winner 4:18 into the third gave the Lightning a 4-2 advantage. But no one breathed easy until Brad Richards' empty-netter with 13.5 seconds left.

Richards also had two assists. Vinny Lecavalier had a goal and an assist. Fredrik Modin scored, and Cory Sarich's short-handed goal was a record 14th for the franchise and put it second in the league, one behind Detroit.

Other notables:

The team's 13th consecutive game with a point (10-0-1-2) matched the record set last season. Its third six-game win streak this season also tied a franchise best.

St. Louis's two assists gave him 78 points and the league's scoring lead. His 13-game points streak tied Brian Bradley's team record set in November 1992. And Nikolai Khabibulin's sixth consecutive win tied Daren Puppa's team record set in 1995-96 and his career mark of 77 Lightning victories.

But it was a struggle against a team whose 33 home points are second worst in the West but which outshot Tampa Bay 30-29, including 17-7 in the second.

"That's a hard-working hockey team," Tortorella said. "That's a (coach) Brian Sutter hockey team. We knew how hard that team was going to work."

That's why Tortorella posted Chicago's biggest victories, including two over the Red Wings, in the Lightning locker room. Timing also was against Tampa Bay, which is in the midst of a 15 games, 26-day stretch and was coming off Monday's emotional 3-0 victory over the Avalanche.

"We come in here and, no disrespect to Chicago," Richards said, "but they don't have the names like Colorado does."

"I think there was a little bit of a letdown," Tortorella said.

Still, the Lightning would have put the game away earlier if not for Chicago goalie Adam Munro, who was outstanding in his second career game and stopped Lecavalier on two breakaways.

But that was after Lecavalier scored on one 4:24 into the game, and Modin gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead 39 seconds later.

Chicago did not allow the Lightning to break contact. And when Tuomo Ruutu tipped in a power-play goal with 9:59 left, it was time for Tampa Bay to sweat.

"Their big guy made some big saves when it was 4-3," Sutter said of Khabibulin, who had 27 saves. "We should have had a point."

"There are 100 ways to win games," Richards said. "This was different than (Monday) night. But the result is still the same."

No apologies.

[Last modified March 4, 2004, 01:15:01]

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