tampabay.com

Tampa Bay victory snaps bad Hab-its

LIGHTNING 2, CANADIENS 1: Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier score, but Sean Burke stands tall in what could be team's biggest win of season.

By TOM JONES
Published March 14, 2006


MONTREAL - Back during the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season, the Lightning limped into Montreal looking to snap a three-wins-in-13-games slide and get its season back on track. It won that night, the season turned around and, well, the rest is the greatest moment in Lightning history.

On Monday, Montreal again was the location where the Lightning found itself looking a little lost as it stood before a crossroads in its season. And, once again, the Lightning mustered up a gutsy victory.

Now, whether Monday's 2-1 victory against the Canadiens at a sold-out Bell Centre jerks the Lightning out of its funk and triggers a resurgence remains to be seen, but its safe to say this: This might have been the team's biggest victory of the season.

"Huge," defenseman Cory Sarich called the win. "We need every point we can get right now. We need that emotional boost and that is what happened."

The victory pushed Tampa Bay one point ahead of the Canadiens for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. With 72 points, the Lightning padded its cushion to four points over Atlanta for the final Eastern playoff spot.

With the season spiraling out of control and its playoff spot in jeopardy, the Lightning put the breaks on a 1-5 slump and it was a couple of heavily criticized players leading the way.

Goalie Sean Burke, one-half of a maligned goaltending tandem that has taken the blame for the Lightning's problems, was spectacular, kicking away 31 shots, allowing only a goofy deflection goal with 2:22 left.

"It's obviously satisfying - it has been a drought," Burke said. "It has been frustrating. This game has a way of coming around if you stay positive."

The Lightning was positive and desperate Monday.

"The most important part of the game was ... Burke was outstanding," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "The bench was alive. Everyone was as a team. And we found a way."

It found a way with a major contribution from forward Marty St. Louis, who had only two goals in the previous 18 games. His short-handed goal late in the second period turned out to be the winner. That went along with an earlier tally from Vinny Lecavalier.

But this game belonged to Burke.

It was apparent early that Burke had brought his A game. Even though he had given up a couple of shaky goals at the worst times in a 5-1 loss in Toronto on Saturday, Tortorella turned again to Burke against the Canadiens. With each save, the Lightning's confidence grew.

With a little more jump in its step, the Lightning finally did something it has rarely done since the end of the Olympic break. It grabbed a lead.

Lecavalier, who always seems to save his best for his hometown, converted on a two-on-one break as linemate Vinny Prospal fed him with a perfect pass. He ripped a one-timer past Montreal's Cristobal Huet, who had pitched back-to-back shutouts in the Canadiens previous two games. The goal was Lecavalier's 25th of the season and it gave the Lightning the first goal of the game for only the second time during the six-game slump. Perhaps it's not coincidence that the other time came against Pittsburgh, the Lightning's only other victory since the break.

Lecavalier's goal came at 11:54, but the dagger came just as the second period was about to end. While short-handed, St. Louis took a pass from Fredrik Modin on a two-on-one and ripped another one-timer that deflected off Huet's shoulder and into the net.

"I was in a one-timing position and I'm just glad Moe saw me," St. Louis said. "It's satisfying whenever you can get a win and be involved in it."

The Lightning then held its breath as Burke made 17 third-period saves to nail down the victory.

"We still have things to work on," Tortorella said. "But how hard we played and how we played is more of our style. ... We have a good team. It's just a matter of regaining our confidence."

On Monday, in hallowed Montreal, the Lightning took a step in that direction.