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Take two: Vinny steals show again

JACK TODD
Published April 26, 2004

TAMPA - One more game like this and they should rename the Jacques Bizard Bridge after the young man who has taken over this series. Make it the Vinny Lecavalier Bridge. If you held a referendum in Quebec today, it would probably split right down the middle: Half want to name a bridge after the kid. The other half want to push him off a bridge - any bridge.

But everyone would agree the Ile Bizard native has been that good. Big, strong, talented and possessed by a nasty streak few suspected. Lecavalier matched his two-goal performance from Game1 with two more as the Lightning zapped the Canadiens again to take a 2-0 lead.

The Lightning is up and the Habs are down because of one play: End of the second, Canadiens trailing 2-1 after skating the wheels off Tampa Bay for nearly 20 minutes, the two teams playing their way to the showers with 15 seconds to go. Sheldon Souray had the puck near the red line, then he didn't. There was Lecavalier streaking toward the net. Jose Theodore went down, Lecavalier went stick-side. Three seconds left and the guy who is a Norris Trophy candidate for the league's best defenseman was being fitted for goat's horns.

"I thought of a million things to do on that play," Souray said. "And when you start to think like that, you're in trouble."

Of the things he could have done, falling with the puck underneath that big body would have been better. Instead, Souray coughed up the puck, Cory Sarich poked it, Lecavalier pounced.

"I don't know if it was a giveaway," Montreal coach Claude Julien said. "There was some bad ice out there and the puck slid off his stick and we didn't react well."

Another period was played, but that was the game. Now the Canadiens have to hope that the wall of sound their fans generate can somehow shake the Lightning, because nothing else has worked.

With Nikolai Khabibulin doing that Brick-In-The-Wall thing, Montreal needs some magic. Right now, Lecavalier has that commodity cornered.

Unless the Canadiens can find a way to slow Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis down, the only question left will be which kind of toast they'd prefer to be - white, rye or whole wheat.

Pity, because this team did battle back. The way the guys in the lightning-bolt jerseys were pouring in on them during the first 10 minutes, the Canadiens looked like golfers caught out in a thunderstorm with no place to hide.

After 8:33, they were down 2-0 on goals by Lecavalier and Fredrik Modin. But Saku Koivu - who else? - pulled the Canadiens back into it with a pure-effort goal late in the period. This was as close as they would get.

Lecavalier, predictably, tried to deflect most of the credit.

"Montreal played a great game," he said, "especially in the second period. They could have turned the whole game around if they tied it but Habby kept making big saves."

The Lightning is sticking to its mantra, about respecting the Canadiens, about taking it - sigh - one game at a time.

"They never give up," Lecavalier said. "Guys like Saku never give up."

The Canadiens have a different mantra. They will mention the Boston series again and again, remind us how they came back from Boston two weeks ago down 2-0 and came back to take it in seven.

The difference is that Boston had a wounded Joe Thornton. Tampa Bay has a healthy Lecavalier, 24, who may have crossed a watershed with five points in two games. As a result, he sounds like a man who can't wait to land in Dorval.

"Any time I play in Montreal," he said, "it's special."

Maybe even a little more this time.

- Jack Todd is a columnist at the Montreal Gazette. Reach him at jtodd@thegazette.canwest.com

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