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One down

Nikolai Khabibulin is stellar again, and Dave Andreychuk, Brad Richards and Chris Dingman fuel the scoring machine.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published May 9, 2004

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TAMPA - Who knew hockey players read their press clippings so closely? And who knew they could have such an effect?

In the end, it was just a vainglorious blip in what turned into a good beginning for the Lightning against the Flyers in the East final. And the 3-1 victory Saturday in Game 1 in front of a screaming sellout crowd of 21,425, the largest ever at the St. Pete Times Forum, looked just fine on the scoreboard.

Still, there was that first period. The Flyers looked strong, the Lightning rusty. And while center Tim Taylor said some of that was attributable to an eight-day layoff after sweeping the Canadiens in the semifinals, he admitted the team might have been a bit full of itself as well.

"All we read about was how fast we are and how great a team we are and how we were going to burn them with our speed," Taylor said. "You start thinking, "Maybe we are that great."'

"Absolutely," right wing Martin St. Louis said. "You read that stuff, and after a while, mentally, maybe you're not as sharp."

The Lightning, then, needs to send a huge thank-you smooch to goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who made nine saves in the first period as Philadelphia came in waves and held a 9-5 shot advantage but couldn't break a 0-0 tie.

Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk got his first playoff goal and center Brad Richards his fifth in the second period for a 2-1 lead. And Chris Dingman scored a huge goal 7:04 into the third with assists from fourth-line mates Eric Perrin and Andre Roy.

Cory Stillman and Fredrik Modin had two assists each, and Khabibulin made 19 saves for his and Tampa Bay's eighth consecutive victory.

"I thought our guys handled themselves very well in getting settled," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "I thought both teams grinded. It was a battle around both nets, and both teams played very well around their nets."

Tampa Bay was exceptional there in the final 2:02 after Stillman was called for tripping. It allowed one shot on the power play and none in the final 1:42 after goalie Robert Esche was pulled and Philadelphia played six-on-four.

In fact, the Lightning allowed only 11 shots in the final two periods, including Michal Handzus' goal 6:48 into the second on a rebound after Khabibulin stopped a sharp deflection off Handzus' skate.

But that was the only crack in an escalating defensive effort that came together after the forwards decided to get involved, something that didn't happen in the first period.

"And they caught us," Taylor said of the Flyers. "They're a good team. And we just weren't helping our D. That gave them a lot of opportunities."

"We didn't come in here by any stretch of the imagination assuming to go (only) four games, and I don't think they did either," Esche said. "We're excited about playing the next game on Monday, and that's the way you have to look at it. I don't think anybody is happy about losing the first game, but you can't get too high or too low at any point in the series."

Philadelphia was on a high when it appeared Sami Kapanen scored on a rebound 6:02 into the game after Khabibulin stopped Keith Primeau's breakaway. But the goal was waved off, and Primeau, who fell into Khabibulin, was called for goaltender interference.

Tampa Bay got more help from referee Dan Marouelli, whose butt deflected Kim Johnsson's clearing attempt to Stillman, who started the sequence that led to Andreychuk's goal 2:03 into the second.

Stillman's interception in the Flyers zone of Mark Recchi's pass led to Richards' goal with 6:26 left.

And Dingman apparently did well in high school geometry as his angled pass off the boards for Roy created the shot that rebounded to Dingman for his goal.

"We had a pretty good team effort," Khabibulin said. "But we know they're going to play better the next game, so we have to play better, too."

And stay away from the newspapers. Who knew?

"Check the bathroom," Taylor said.

"They're all in there."

[Last modified May 9, 2004, 01:41:11]

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