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Lightning needs its gamebreaker

Captain Vincent Lecavalier's slump continues in a 4-2 loss to Buffalo. ''I'm trying to get out of it.''

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 2, 2001


TAMPA -- Vinny Lecavalier can envision himself scoring goals.

"That's a key," he said. "When you see yourself scoring, then you go on the ice and you try."

If only it were that easy right now.

The Lightning captain is pressing to get through a slump that has left him, and Lightning coach John Tortorella, wondering if that day will come before the season ends.

"I'm really trying to focus a lot and visualize a lot more," said Lecavalier, who has three goals in his past 14 games after going scoreless in a 4-2 loss against Buffalo on Sunday. "I'm trying to get out of it and I'm really, really concentrating. But the bounces aren't there."

The Sabres got the bounces Sunday.

Held to a season-low one shot in the first period, Buffalo scored three in the third to blow open a tie game before an announced 15,214 at the Ice Palace.

Six minor penalties, which contributed to two power play goals by the Sabres, and a failed 5-on-3 opportunity in the second were too much for the Lightning to overcome.

"I thought we played well through a lot of the game," Tortorella said. "I'm not going to lie to you, we did some very good things, but you need your gamebreaker scoring goals, plain and simple, to win in this league."

That gamebreaker is Lecavalier.

"It's frustrating," he said. "I think maybe I've got to shoot a little bit more, maybe bring it to the net a little bit more, drive to the net and just crash it, just try and get something."

Lecavalier did try during that failed 5 on 3, which lasted 1:37 after the Sabres were penalized twice late in the second with the score tied at 1. He had at least three chances in front of Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek, who stopped 20 shots in his fourth straight win.

"When I got rebounds, it just went over my stick or my stick broke," Lecavalier said. "Usually when you get a couple of chances, at least one is going to go in. But it didn't. It could've changed the game."

Instead the Sabres rallied for one power play goal by defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, a wrist shot at 11:45 into the second, and two more early in the third.

Left wing Dave Andreychuk broke the tie when he scored his 236th career power play goal -- second only to Phil Esposito's 249 -- at 6:57 into the final period on a rebound of a one-timer by right wing Donald Audette.

"We got some chances and end up getting a power play goal, which is the big goal," Andreychuk said.

Buffalo made it 3-1 only 47 seconds later when left wing Miroslav Satan beat Lightning goaltender Kevin Weekes from in front of the net with 12:16 left.

Weekes made 21 saves. "We got a couple of chances and don't score," Tortorella said. "They get a one-timer, a funny rebound and Andreychuk puts it home. That's the game."

Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina scored his 11th of the season with 6:21 remaining, but Zhitnik scored his second goal of the game, an empty-netter with 1:05 left.

Center John Emmons scored Tampa Bay's first goal 3:37 into the second. It was Emmons' first goal in 31 games and first since being acquired by the Lightning on March 13.

It also was Hasek's first goal allowed in 147 minutes, 38 seconds.

"The Lightning played hard in the first period," Hasek said. "They outskated us, outshot us and we're a better team (than that)."

With the victory, the Sabres pulled back to within one point of Philadelphia for the No. 4 spot and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Lightning has lost five of six and is trying to recapture the success it had last month, when it earned at least one point in seven consecutive games.

"It's an awfully big hole to put yourself into against a club like that with Hasek in net. Instead of 2-1 it's 3-1," Tortorella said. "We end up battling back. I thought the guys worked very hard to try and get back in it. But again, it's that third goal."

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