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Team's tormentor looms

Tampa Bay's 4-1 loss sets up a playoff series vs. Ottawa, which has owned the Lightning lately.

By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
Published April 19, 2006

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Lightning defensemen Darryl Sydor, center, and Paul Ranger skate away after goalie John Grahame allows a first-period goal in Washington's win.

TAMPA - Before Tuesday night's 4-1 loss at the St. Pete Times Forum to Washington in the regular-season finale, the Lightning said all the things playoff-bound teams are supposed to say.

We don't care who we play in the postseason.

We'll play anybody.

Doesn't matter to us.

But one had to wonder if, deep down, the Lightning meant the cliches. Sure, it didn't want to provide any bulletin-board fodder for a potential first-round opponent. But, seriously, a trip to Carolina sounded finer than a showdown with mighty Ottawa, the team that seems to use the Lightning as a chew toy.

Well, that's who the Lightning is going to get. Turns out, a loss Tuesday night gave it a date with the Senators. Game 1 is Friday in Ottawa. The teams then play every other day with Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 6 in Tampa.

"Ottawa? Wow," Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said. "They've had our number for years now."

The Lightning went 0-4 against the Senators during the regular season. And when it won the Cup in 2003-04. The Lightning is 1-13 versus Ottawa in the past 14 and has lost 17 of the past 20 meetings. Now the Lightning must figure out how to win four games in a little less than two weeks against a team it hasn't beaten four times in five years.

"Somehow we have to think that we're going to shock everyone," Boyle said. "I'm pretty sure there aren't going to be too many people who are going to pick us to win. I'm pretty sure that it's going to be unanimous that everyone is going to pick us to lose."

Had the Lightning won Tuesday, it would have played Carolina, a team it went 5-2-1 against during the regular season.

"It really doesn't matter," center Brad Richards said. "If we played Carolina in the first round and won, we probably would have played Ottawa in the next round anyway. Might as well play them now."

Lightning coach John Tortorella went a step farther: "Right where we want to be. As far as the past little while, maybe the results (against Ottawa) haven't been what we wanted to be. But I think we have played better and you want to play the team that is supposed to win. They have been predicted for a half of a year now that they're supposed to win. So we want to be right there to start it off."

Ottawa won the four games this season by scores of 4-1, 4-2, 4-0 and 4-3.

Because of so many different scenarios, there was no way to tell before the game whether the Lightning was better off winning or losing Tuesday night. It could have finished seventh or eighth overall and still had to wait on the outcome of other games to determine whether it played Carolina or Ottawa.

It looked as if a loss wouldn't matter as Montreal took a 3-0 lead on New Jersey. But the Devils rallied to win, 4-3, and a so-so effort cost the Lightning a chance to grab the seventh seed.

Before the game, Tortorella said he told the Lightning simply "to play." According to Tortorella, both teams were going to play to win. However, the finale didn't have the juice of your typical regular-season game.

It had a quicker pace than a standard preseason game, but not nearly the intensity or physical play of one. The Lightning even used some preseason strategy, splitting the game between goalies John Grahame and Sean Burke. Ruslan Fedotenko scored his 26th for the lone Lightning goal.

"It was tough to play this game," Tortorella said.

But, undoubtedly, the next several games will be tougher.

"If I said no, I'd be lying," defenseman Cory Sarich said when asked if the Lightning has a mental block against the Sens. "We've done a good job this year of working through it. We didn't get the results, but I think our play showed that we started to break down that barrier."

Starting Friday, the Lightning will learn if that's true.

[Last modified April 19, 2006, 01:59:13]

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