LIGHTNING 4, 'CANES 2: efenseman rescues Tampa Bay, which is outshot 33-16.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 11, 2004
Dimitry Afanasenkov moves the puck around the Hurricane's Justin Williams to take a shot on goal.
RALEIGH, N.C. - Fifteen minutes after Wednesday night's game against the Hurricanes, Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle still had not taken off his skates. That's what happens when you spend time speaking to the media.
So teammate Brad Lukowich knelt and began untying Boyle's laces.
"That's what you get," said Lukowich, who should have added ... when you score the winning goal in a 4-2 victory at the RBC Center.
The goal was important on a few levels. The Lightning reached 40 victories for the first time, and its 93 points tied last season's total and franchise record.
It also continued a bunch of streaks, including a 17-game run, the longest in the NHL this season, in which Tampa Bay has points (13-0-2-2), and a franchise-best seven-game road unbeaten streak (6-0-1-0).
Most importantly, though, it sparked the Lightning in a game in which it was outshot 33-16 and badly outplayed. And it was a good reminder of what Boyle can do.
Boyle has been overlooked during Tampa Bay's offensive onslaught. He started slowly, and his eight goals and 25 assists are well behind last season's career highs of 13 and 40.
But when Boyle established position in front of the Hurricanes net and converted Tim Taylor's perfect pass from behind it, well, it was like old times.
"Obviously the points are not as much as last year," said Boyle, who also had an assist. "But I'm happy with the way things are going. I haven't had to press as much this year the way the team has been going."
"He's progressed," coach John Tortorella said. "He has slowly found his way through here, and his production has steadily grown. Even when he was struggling with the stats everyone looks at, we still felt he was competing hard."
Tampa Bay competed just enough against the determined Hurricanes, who played their first game since former captain Ron Francis was traded to the Maple Leafs.
Dave Andreychuk and Ruslan Fedotenko scored 54 seconds apart on the game's first two shots to give it a 2-0 lead at 3:09. Taylor, whose empty-net goal ended the scoring, had two points. And goalie John Grahame, playing his first game since Feb. 20, had 31 saves and won his 12th decision in his past 15.
Though Jesse Boulerice got a goal back in the first period and Carolina tied it when Radim Vrbata scored at 6:58 of the second, the Lightning, the league's No. 1 team, went unbeaten for the 10th straight game (9-0-1-0) and upped its unbeaten streak against Carolina to 6-0-4-0.
"If you take those first two mistakes out of the way, that's the best game we've played in a while," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "That's what's frustrating."
Tortorella was frustrated as well.
"We didn't play well, plain and simple," he said. "But I still think we need to respect the hockey team. We haven't had too many of those."
No surprise it came at the end of a three-game road trip and two days after an emotional 1-1 tie with the Red Wings that clinched the Southeast title and a playoff spot.
"We need a day off," Tortorella said. "We need to get away. We've been traveling for the past who knows how long. We don't even know what city we're in half the time. We have to get away from the game."
Just as Boyle is finding his.
The Ottawa native has two winning goals in his past three games and five goals and 18 points in his past 25. A 26-game stretch in which he had just three assists is all but forgotten.
Worth remembering is the way Boyle beat Hurricanes goalie Arturs Irbe to the long side after noticing how he hugged the post.
"I tried a few switches left and right until Taylor found me," Boyle said. "It was a great pass."
Though not a great victory.
"We got off to a great start and after that we put it in cruise control and got abused," Boyle said. "But we won, and that's the bottom line."