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Remember this goaltender?

In his first start in nine games, Marc Denis makes 36 saves over 65 minutes and three in the shootout.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 16, 2007


TAMPA - What had it been, Marc Denis was asked, 24, 25 days since he started a game?

"I don't know," the Lightning goaltender said. "You tell me."

For the record, it was 26 days. But you know what? Denis seemed as if he had been in net all along.

He made 36 saves in Thursday's 3-2 shootout victory over the Capitals at the St. Pete Times Forum. Three more came in the shootout while Marty St. Louis converted for Tampa Bay, which has won 14 of 17 games, 12 straight one-goal decisions and is 8-1 in shootouts.

"He was great," Lightning defenseman Filip Kuba said. "He was unbelievable."

"He was," coach John Tortorella said, "the difference."

That is because Tampa Bay was badly outplayed for most of the game. The 38 shots allowed and the 17 in the third period were season highs.

Denis improved to 3-1 in shootouts and has stopped 16 of 17 shots. Not bad for a player who had not started since Jan. 20 playing behind the hot-handed Johan Holmqvist.

"Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward," Denis said. "Hopefully, that's Step 1 of the leap forward."

The Lightning (33-24-2) keeps moving forward in the standings and with 68 points is one behind the first-place Thrashers in the Southeast.

Vinny Lecavalier's two second-period goals - one on the power play and one shorthanded after exceptional wall play and a pass from St. Louis - gave him a league-best 39 and Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.

But Lecavalier, hit from behind as he passed in the defensive zone, sent the puck directly to Washington's Dainius Zubrus, who scored from the slot to tie the score with 14.9 seconds left in the third period.

Washington took a 1-0 lead 9:07 into the first on Alexander Semin's power-play goal that knuckleballed through Denis' legs off Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt.

Credit Denis for staying focused as Washington, with Brent Johnson in goal for injured star Olaf Kolzig, took advantage in the first period of a listless team.

"We have to be careful," Tortorella said. "We can't say we won another one and not learn from some of the things we struggled with, especially our start.

"It could have been 3-0 in the first period. We threw our uniforms out there to play. ... If you're going to get beat, you'd better try. I don't think we had any emotion or intensity at all."

Denis was all intensity.

In a 15-second span of the third period, he made four saves, three on sharpshooter Alexander Ovechkin, two with a dazzling glove.

He stopped Ovechkin in the shootout and dived to stop Matt Pettinger to end the game. Kuba helped in overtime, using his stick shaft to block Ovechkin's cross-slot pass to a wide-open Pettinger.

"That," Denis said, "was awesome."

As was his first-period stop of Eric Fehr's redirection, and Denis didn't flinch when Zubrus' slap shot hit him square in the mask.

"I was just happy to be back in there," Denis said. "I'm just going to be as focused and ready for the next game, whenever that might be."

First Period-1, Washington, Semin 30 (Zubrus), 9:07 (pp). Penalties-Boyle, TB (holding), 9:03; Lecavalier, TB (tripping), 15:27.

Second Period-2, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 38 (Boyle, Richards), 2:44 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 39 (St. Louis), 7:05 (sh). Penalties-Washington bench, served by Ovechkin (too many men), :13; Johnson, Was (delay of game), 2:32; Ranger, TB (holding), 5:58.

Third Period-4, Washington, Zubrus 20, 19:45. Penalties-Heward, Was (delay of game), 5:36; Lecavalier, TB (tripping), 9:16.

Overtime-None. Penalties-None.

Shootout-Washington 0 (Semin NG, Ovechkin NG, Pettinger NG), Tampa Bay 1 (Lecavalier NG, Richards NG, St. Louis G). Shots on Goal-Washington 12-6-17-3-38. Tampa Bay 8-10-7-4-29. Power-play opportunities-Washington 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies-Washington, Johnson 4-7-4 (29 shots-27 saves). Tampa Bay, Denis 12-13-2 (38-36). A-18,744 (19,758). T-2:29. Referees-Gord Dwyer, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen-Steve Miller, Mark Pare.

Lightning3

Capitals2

Lightning wins

shootout 1-0

Lightning

0 2 0 0 3
Capitals 1 0 1 0 2
Lightning wins shootout 1-0