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Hard work returns; so does winning
By TOM JONES
Published January 19, 2006
LOS ANGELES - No one is claiming the Lightning's problems were suddenly solved with a 4-1 victory Tuesday night against the injury-depleted Los Angeles Kings.
But, for a couple of hours at least, the pride of the Lightning was restored.
"Absolutely," alternate captain Tim Taylor said. "This was about pride and it showed our players that if we work hard in all aspects of the game, good things happen and you have good outcomes."
Working hard hasn't been something the Lightning has done a lot of recently. As a result, good things haven't happened and there have not been a whole lot of good outcomes.
But, in a much-needed change, the Lightning showed some passion and desperation Tuesday night against the Kings.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Lightning was embarrassed in a 3-1 loss at San Jose. That drab effort prompted a 30-minute, hold-nothing-back meeting upon the team's arrival at its Los Angeles hotel late Monday.
"We had let a (lack of) effort seep into our team and I was scared to death that that kind of effort had become acceptable," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "If we lose our work ethic, we're an average or a below-average team."
That was proven in San Jose and the Lightning's late-night meeting, as well as another pow-wow before Tuesday's morning skate, hammered home the point that effort, not skill, was throwing a wrench into the Lightning's season.
"We needed effort, desperation," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "Those were the two biggest keys we talked about in the past 24 hours. If anyone didn't come out and give it their all, they must have been deaf."
In case anyone wasn't paying attention, Sarich lit a spark less than four minutes into the game when he fought Kings tough guy Tom Kostopoulos.
Three minutes after that, Marty St. Louis scored a rare Lightning power-play goal to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead in a game it would never trail.
The Lightning's power-play had gone 0-for-40 before St. Louis' goal, but then it responded with another when Vinny Lecavalier gave Tampa Bay the lead for good midway through the second with a five-on-three goal.
Ruslan Fedotenko added insurance late in the period and Norm Milley scored his first NHL goal into an empty net with 1:10 left in the game.
Meanwhile, goaltender John Grahame made 22 saves, including a key stop on Sean Avery's penalty shot early in the third period that kept the Lightning ahead 3-1.
The victory allowed the Lightning (23-20-3) to remain within two points of New Jersey for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It was totally the opposite from the effort of the San Jose game," Tortorella said.
"This was the start of our playoffs," Taylor said. "We need to win hockey games. We need to put points on the board."
That wasn't going to happen until the Lightning combined its talent with a little elbow grease and some desperation.
"We played more of the way we need to play," Tortorella said. "And it's the way we will need to play if we're going to become a good team."
It isn't there yet, but Tuesday's victory was at least a step in the right direction.