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Lightning replaces memories of loss

After an embarrassing early season showing, goalie Marc Denis finds redemption in Buffalo.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published January 14, 2007


BUFFALO, N.Y. - There were hugs for Marc Denis in the Lightning locker room Saturday night.

Teammates called his name.

"Good job. Way to go."

The goaltender earned it with the way he shut down the Sabres during Tampa Bay's 3-2 victory at the HSBC Arena.

One-timers, shots from the point and crease were smothered as Denis made 32 saves, 13 in the third period. Okay, so he got lucky when Jaroslav Spacek hit the post with 5:07 remaining, but as coach John Tortorella said, "No apologies. In the third period, it's the best I've seen Marc Denis play this year."

The victory against the East's top team gave Tampa Bay (23-21-2) its first four-game winning streak, and it avenged a loss here in November in which Denis allowed seven second-period goals.

Give Denis and his teammates credit, then, for gathering themselves after the Sabres scored twice in 44 seconds in the second period. The second goal, a bad one on a nothing shot from Ales Kotalik that beat Denis through his legs, gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead 4:50 into the period.

But Dan Boyle, who earlier in the day was left off the All-Star team, tied the score with his 10th goal with 4:22 left in the second. And Brad Richards got the winner with his 15th, and first in seven games, 6:56 into the third.

That is how much this team has progressed.

Buffalo surged similarly in November and Tampa Bay crumbled, played poorly away from the puck and let the Sabres have the run of the ice.

On Saturday, the Lightning settled and took control of the neutral zone in the last seven or so minutes of the second period.

"We've started to grow up in that way," Richards said. "Everybody is doing a better job, the coaches included, of staying positive on the bench."

Denis' effort helped.

"He did a great job," Richards said. "He wants that second one back, but he regrouped and played a really nice game."

"I just had a feeling they weren't going to be fazed by (the second goal)," Denis said. "The least I could do was regroup and refocus."

The result:

- A save on Nathan Paetsch's deflection 2:30 into the third period and a dive to cover the puck as Maxim Afinogenov went for the rebound.

- A left-leg save on Jason Pominville's one-timer at 6:56.

- A blocker save on Pominville's shot from the slot with 9:34 left.

"He made some huge stops," Boyle said. "That's all you can ask of a goalie, to give you a chance to win."

Scrambling team defense helped as Tampa Bay, outshot 34-23, was 6-for-6 on the penalty kill and blocked 20 shots, including a team-high four by defenseman Nolan Pratt.

There were the usual contributions from Vinny Lecavalier, who scored his 27th goal in the first period, and Marty St. Louis, whose corner work got Lecavalier the puck and gave St. Louis assists in eight straight games to tie a career best.

But in the end, it came down to Denis, who has won four of five decisions.

"Let me just catch my breath here," he said in the locker room.

It was about the only thing that eluded him all night.

First Period-1, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 27 (St. Louis), 10:05 (pp). Penalties-Lecavalier, TB, double minor (roughing), 5:48; Kotalik, Buf (holding), 8:18; Lecavalier, TB (slashing), 13:40; Gaustad, Buf (boarding), 18:58.

Second Period-2, Buffalo, Pominville 20 (Spacek, Briere), 4:06; 3, Buffalo, Kotalik 13 (Campbell), 4:50; 4, Tampa Bay, Boyle 10, 15:38. Penalties-Craig, TB (interference), :58; Fedotenko, TB (interference), 7:47.

Third Period-5, Tampa Bay, Richards 15 (Ranger, Fedotenko), 6:56. Penalty-Craig, TB (tripping), 17:06. Shots on Goal-Tampa Bay 9-9-5-23. Buffalo 12-9-13-34. Power-play opportunities-Tampa Bay 1 of 2; Buffalo 0 of 6. Goalies-Tampa Bay, Denis 10-12-2 (34 shots-32 saves). Buffalo, Miller 22-8-2 (23-20). A-18,690 (18,690). T-2:17. Referees-Mike Hasenfratz, Wes McCauley. Linesmen-Brian Murphy, Jonny Murray.

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