Lecavalier does it all

Well ... almost all. The NHL's top scorer has a hand in only five of six goals.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007

TAMPA - Pat Burns considers it fortunate that, living in Port Charlotte, he regularly attends Lightning games at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Watching Vinny Lecavalier turn into a superstar hasn't been bad either, the former Devils coach said, and Wednesday's 6-1 victory over the Hurricanes confirmed what he long has believed.

"If I was to start a hockey franchise and I had the first pick overall, I'd take Vinny," Burns said. "I've said he is the top player in the NHL."

Hard to argue after the way the center decimated the Southeast-leading Hurricanes with three goals and two assists. Two goals and two assists came in a five-goal second period, the hat trick on a third-period short-handed breakaway.

Lecavalier's five points tied a career best. His 29 points, on 12 goals and 17 assists, made him the league's top scorer.

"Pretty sick," Lightning defenseman Shane O'Brien said. "He's a special player. Every night it's fun to watch him.

"Whenever he does stuff like that, he gives us a great chance to win."

Speaking of winning, the Lightning (9-8-1) has won four straight and is above .500 for the first time since Oct. 30.

Goaltender Johan Holmqvist made 28 saves, including big ones at big times in a scoreless first period, when Tampa Bay was flat and Carolina pressed the action.

Paul Ranger scored; as did Vinny Prospal, whose 12 goals tied Lecavalier for the team high; and Marty St. Louis, who has four goals in five games and with Lecavalier was plus-5.

For good measure, Brad Richards and Doug Janik won fights with Justin Williams and Craig Adams, respectively.

But it was Lecavalier who put on the show that had Burns talking about Mario Lemieux.

"I hate to make comparisons because sometimes it's not fair to the player, but the only guy that comes to mind is Mario Lemieux," Burns said when asked about Lecavalier's second period.

"He could change a whole game like that and take control of it."

"That's really nice," Lecavalier said. "But I have to say there are many good players. It's nice to hear that from a respected coach, but I get a chance to play with (linemates) Marty St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal. I'm lucky to play with those guys."

There was nothing lucky about the second period - "It was unbelievable how he played in the second period," coach John Tortorella said - and the only goal in which Lecavalier did not have a hand was Prospal's with 49.1 seconds left.

Lecavalier's pinpoint pass sprung Ranger, whose backhander went up and over goalie John Grahame 1:27 into the period. Lecavalier made it 2-0 at 4:12 when he stole the puck in the offensive zone and banked the puck in off the skate of Carolina's Frantisek Kaberle.

His fake shot and pass put St. Louis in perfect scoring position with 7:28 remaining, and his breakaway goal with 5:36 left made it 4-0.

Lecavalier shielded the puck and created room for himself by shouldering past pursuing defenseman Tim Gleason. His backhander was perfect - high to the glove side.

"I didn't really have legs any more. I had been out on the ice a long time," Lecavalier said. "I knew (Gleason) was catching up to me. I knew he had body position, and I got lucky on the shot. It deflected off the post and went in."

"You just can't give a guy like that opportunities," Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore said.

"He's going to score."

And earn some rave reviews.