tampabay.com

Two much-needed but difficult points

LIGHTNING 4, CAPITALS 3 (OT): Three rallies get the game to overtime, where Pavel Kubina quickly ends it.

By TOM JONES
Published March 24, 2006


TAMPA - In the NHL, they are called "trap games."

Trap games are ones that look easy on paper but rarely are easy where it counts most: on the ice. The other team might have a lousy record. Maybe it played the night before. Maybe it is so far out of the playoff race, it plays loose as a goose.

The Washington Capitals fell into all of the above categories. And the Lightning nearly fell into the trap.

But showing the resiliency that has become a recent trademark, the Lightning rallied time and again and escaped with a 4-3 overtime victory in front of 19,917 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Pavel Kubina's one-timer from the top of the faceoff circle during a four-on-three power play cleanly beat goalie Olaf Kolzig and was the winner 37 seconds into overtime.

"It was a big win," Kubina said, "because you wake up in the morning and you see four or five teams (right) behind in the standings."

With 79 points, the Lightning (37-28-5) remained in sixth place in the East with the top eight teams making the playoffs. But check out the conga line behind the Lightning. Atlanta beat New Jersey in overtime Thursday, allowing both teams to pick up points. New Jersey is in seventh, two points behind the Lightning, while eighth-place Atlanta is only three points behind.

Meantime, ninth-place Montreal remained only four points behind the Lightning with a victory against Toronto.

"Huge win, big win," forward Ruslan Fedotenko said. "The standings are so tight that every point is important. Everyone is playing for the points."

The result was indeed good for the Lightning, but the means to get there was what coach John Tortorella called "sloppy."

The Caps (22-38-9) came in next-to-last in the 15-team Eastern Conference while sliding down a seven-game losing streak. Plus, they played Wednesday night.

"If we get in (the playoffs)," Tortorella said, "we're going to be a dangerous hockey team. But we have to work on what we do best, and those are the details of the game. Not just against the good teams ... we need to respect our opponent at all times."

The Lightning should have known better against the Caps. Even though Tampa Bay has picked up 10 of a possible 14 points against Washington, five of the seven games have been decided by a goal, including three shootouts and Thursday's overtime.

Three times Thursday the Caps took one-goal leads, and three times the Lightning rallied, on goals by Dan Boyle in the first and Fedotenko and Ryan Craig in the third. Craig's power-play goal with 7:14 left sent the game to overtime.

The key to the victory, however, was the Lightning's ability to kill seven minutes in penalties during a 7:37 span in the second period, including two minutes' worth of a five-on-three. "That's the game, killing that off," Tortorella said.

Goalie John Grahame gets most of the credit with several big saves among his 27 for the game.

"He was unbelievable," Kubina said of Grahame.

Just as unbelievable was Washington rookie Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 45th and 46th goals while reeling off a mind-boggling 13 shots on goal. Tortorella called him an "animal."

Tortorella also warned his team not to get too comfy despite going 3-0-1 in the past four.

"Our resiliency was great. But we can't keep on allowing teams to get leads, and we can't be as sloppy," Tortorella said. "It's a huge two points for us, but as a coach, you got to throw away the results some and look at what your team is doing because you don't want it to snowball. And we have to stop right now."

If it doesn't, it might fall through a few of the trap doors that await in the final 12 games of the season.