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A good loss: No shot at loss mark

With overtime loss ruling, NHL says the Lightning's streak of 50-loss seasons is over.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


PITTSBURGH -- When is a loss not a loss? According to the NHL, when it comes in overtime.

Benny Ercolani, the NHL's chief statistician, said the league does not count overtime losses as official losses. That means Tampa Bay will not reach 50 losses for an NHL-record fourth consecutive season, despite the chance it will be outscored in that many games.

The Lightning has lost 45 games in regulation. It has lost four in overtime. That's 49 games in which it has been outscored. But Ercolani said that only games lost in regulation are counted as official losses.

"That's the number which will be added to the team's career losses," he said.

So with three games remaining, the most the Lightning can officially lose is 48. It lost 55, 54 and 54 the past three seasons.

The ruling ruined an intriguing storyline for tonight's game against the Penguins at Mellon Arena.

Pittsburgh and the Lightning are the only teams to lose 50 games in three consecutive seasons. The Penguins did it from 1982-85.

A Pittsburgh victory might have wiped the Penguins from that record. Now the teams will continue to share the unwanted distinction, and that's fine with the Lightning front office.

"It's important for the organization's perspective because we feel that monicker would be unfair," team spokesman Bill Wickett said. "A few years ago (before overtime), all those losses would be considered ties, and we don't believe it is right to be credited with a loss when a point is earned in a game."

Funny, the league had no problem with it last season.

That was when the NHL decided teams that played to a tie in regulation would get a point regardless of the outcome of the five-minute overtime.

Teams that scored in overtime got a victory and an extra point. The other team got what was called a regulation tie, listed in a fourth column in the standings. But the team also got a loss in the L column.

This season the league changed the name of the fourth column to overtime losses and stopped adding a loss to the L column when teams lost in the extra period.

Somehow, that changed the definition of an official loss, though it didn't affect what was considered an official victory.

It bails out Tampa Bay, which, as it revs up its season-ticket push for next season, wants to accentuate its improvements. And there have been many.

Its 24 victories are five more than last season and its most since 1996-97. The talent level has been upgraded. It is on track to allow its fewest goals since 1997-98 and could, with a flourish, finish with more than the 204 goals scored last season.

But a loss is a loss is a loss -- except in the NHL.

"To be honest, I haven't even thought about it," left wing Fredrik Modin said.

On the other hand, he said of the NHL's stand, "I'm not going to complain about it, that's for sure."

Coach John Tortorella said, "I don't care about the numbers. This coaching staff and a lot of the players were not part of the 50-loss seasons."

Only defenseman Jassen Cullimore has played for Tampa Bay the past four seasons, and he called it a "non-issue."

Defenseman Cory Sarich disagreed.

"It matters," he said. "I wasn't here for the first couple of (50-loss) years. But being part of this organization, you don't want to see records like that.

"You just want to set the good ones."

KHABIBULIN VS. RANGERS: Tortorella said goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin will start Thursday against the Rangers in Tampa Bay's final home game.

"The fans get to see him, and Nik gets that out of the way," Tortorella said. "That cleans all the obstacles out of the way so next year when he and (Kevin Weekes) come to camp as a goaltending tandem, there are no distractions."

Tonight: Lightning at Penguins

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30; Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh.

TV/RADIO: Lightning Hockey Network; WDAE-AM 620.

THE LOWDOWN: Lightning F Matthew Barnaby will make his first appearance in Pittsburgh since being traded Feb. 1. "I think it'll be good," he said of his expected reception. "I was pretty popular when I was there." ... Pittsburgh C Mario Lemieux sat out Monday's loss to the Islanders but is expected to play. ... Penguins RW Jaromir Jagr took a puck off the hand during warmups Monday and did not practice Tuesday, but he is expected to play. ... Jagr's 116 points the league going into Tuesday night's games. ... Jagr was tied for second with 49 goals and tied for the league lead with 67 assists. ... Kevin Weekes will start in goal for the Lightning. Johan Hedberg (5-1-1), whose only loss was March17 to Tampa Bay, will start for the Penguins. ... The Lightning has lost five of its past six but has won two straight on the road. The Penguins have won four of their past five and are 4-1-1 in their past six at home. ... This is the final meeting of the season (1-1-1). ... Pittsburgh leads the series 19-10-4 and is 11-3-2 at home.

- Compiled by Damian Cristodero.

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