Winning with purpose
Lightning's third straight win puts it into the 8th playoff spot.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published January 12, 2007
TAMPA - Vinny Prospal was going to savor this moment.
Leaning against a wall in the Lightning locker room after a 5-4 victory over the Capitals on Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, the left wing ticked off the reasons to be happy.
With a third straight victory Tampa Bay, at 22-21-2, is over .500 for the first time since Dec. 7. Its 46 points pushed it past Washington into the East's eighth and final playoff spot.
And, Prospal was reminded, he played probably his best game of the season.
"It feels great for a change," he said, a huge grin across his face. "It feels great right now."
Prospal had a goal and two assists for his first three-point game of the season. And his pass on Marty St. Louis' winner, which broke a 4-4 tie 3:22 into the third period, was perfect as he snapped a blind backhand pass from behind the net.
It was the kind of game for which the struggling Prospal had waited.
"He played well," St. Louis said. "He's been hard on himself. For him to have a breakout night like that, I'm sure he can build off it and feed off it."
Perhaps it is the same for the Lightning, which hasn't won many games in which it flat out outscored an opponent, so getting contributions from several quarters was crucial.
St. Louis' 28th goal tied for the league lead. Linemate Vinny Lecavalier had two goals and is up to 26.
Ryan Craig scored for the second straight game. Andre Roy added a spark by fighting heavyweight Donald Brashear and getting in the better punches.
Team defense tightened in the third period. Brad Richards won a defensive-zone faceoff with five seconds left. And goalie Johan Holmqvist, who allowed a bad goal to Chris Clark with 9.4 seconds left in the second to make the score 4-4, was solid in the third.
"You can see the fight in them," coach John Tortorella said of his players. "That's very important when you try to climb this hill that we put ourselves in. I really respect the fight they still have in them. They're playing some good hockey right now."
So is Prospal.
The Lightning has struggled to get balanced scoring. Prospal was not holding up his end of the bargain and entered the game with five goals and 24 points, nowhere near the pace of last season's 25 and 80.
It is not as if he wasn't playing hard, Tortorella said, or putting himself in position to succeed, "For some reason it just hasn't gone his way with the statistics."
But since being paired with St. Louis and Lecavalier Jan. 5 against the Avalanche, Prospal has two goals and three assists with 14 shots in four games.
His feed to St. Louis standing in front of Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig was on the money.
"He yelled at me," Prospal said of St. Louis. "It was a great play by him to tell me he was behind me. I gave it a shot, and it turned out to be the winning goal."
"You hope he grows," Tortorella said. "You hope he gets confidence."
For the Lightning, it would be something to savor.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 893-8622. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com.