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St. Louis scores late to win it

LIGHTNING 3, ISLES 2: Playing with a broken finger, the 2003-04 MVP converts a "pass" from Vinny Lecavalier.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published November 18, 2005

TAMPA - Every now and then, a moment comes along that makes you wonder if there really is such a thing as fate.

Consider the Lightning's game Thursday night with the Islanders.

Marty St. Louis, who was supposed to be out two to four weeks with a broken left ring finger, surprised just about everyone by putting himself back in the lineup after missing just two games.

The right wing not only led all forwards with 23 minutes, 27 seconds of ice time, he scored the winner with 1:43 left in the third period in Tampa Bay's 3-2 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"It feels good," St. Louis said while flushing his system with a ride on the stationary bike.

"But I don't want you to blow this story out of proportion. It's a fingertip, you know? Yes, it's not comfortable. It's just a matter of if I could hold a stick."

He did more. He held his own with regular turns on the power play and penalty kill and fought through the pain wearing a plastic cast and taking, he said, nothing more than a couple of Advils.

Except for occasionally releasing his stick with his left hand, there was no indication St. Louis, hurt during Sunday's practice by a Darryl Sydor slap shot, was in any distress.

"He has the biggest heart in the league, probably," goaltender John Grahame said. "Just having his presence out there really helped us."

St. Louis was in the right place at the right time like he was when he scored the series clincher in overtime against the Islanders in Game 5 of the 2003-04 East quarterfinal. This time, he picked up a puck a stickless Vinny Lecavalier kicked in his direction and shot it past goaltender Rick DiPietro for his sixth goal of the season that snapped a 2-2 tie.

"Just a great play by Vinny," St. Louis said. "I said, "I hope I make sure it goes in the back of the net."'

"High marks," coach John Tortorella said. "It was fitting for him to bang one in for the winning goal."

But there was more to Tampa Bay's victory, which gave it five points in its past three games and snapped the Islanders' three-game winning streak.

The team, which has been outscored 26-20 in the third, kept its poise after Alexei Yashin tied the score 57 seconds into the period and kept up the pressure.

Ruslan Fedotenko scored his third goal in four games. Brad Richards scored with an assist from rookie Evgeny Artyukhin, who earned the puck with a ferocious forecheck.

Then there was Grahame, who made a season-high 34 saves, including 11 in the third period, and won his second straight by allowing just two goals.

He had some luck as Yashin, facing an open net with about a minute remaining, zipped a shot over the crossbar. But as Tortorella said, "Our team needs a little luck. We haven't had a whole bunch so far early on."

It did not lessen Grahame's effort.

"He has played very well the past two games," Tortorella said. "As hard as I've been on the goalies, Johnny Grahame made some big saves, especially in the third period. That's the key."

"Give them credit," DiPietro said. "They work hard. They were in the right spot. But it's a tough one for us to drop."

St. Louis said the game would have been a tough one for him to watch. He missed Monday's emotional victory over the Flyers and Tuesday's disappointing shootout loss to the Capitals.

"I hate watching your own team," he said. "You want to be part of the action."

There was plenty leading up to St. Louis' goal as Lecavalier said he lost his stick in a scramble in the slot.

A puck from Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina hit Lecavalier in the back and fell to his feet. It appeared Lecavalier had a purpose when he kicked it, but the center said he was just trying to get the puck toward the net.

Instead he got it to St. Louis.

"He played great," Lecavalier said. "We were definitely happy to see him play."

And even happier to see him score.

[Last modified November 18, 2005, 08:48:45]

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