Tampa Bay can find consistency by solidly following up an overtime victory.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000
TAMPA -- Steve Ludzik was extremely happy Friday night after the Lightning's dramatic 4-3 overtime victory over the Islanders.
Really, he was.
But Tampa Bay's coach knows better than to make too much of one game in a seven-month season, especially when his team has struggled so mightily to hit a consistent level of play.
So Ludzik did his best after the game and after Saturday's practice at the Ice Palace to keep his perspective. He complimented his team in quiet tones. He may have even cracked a smile, but it was mostly all business.
"As a coach, you tell your players never to get too high after a win," Ludzik said. "Keep everything on an even keel."
The Lightning will need to play at an even keel and take a businesslike approach in tonight's game against the Capitals at the Ice Palace.
Washington has been one of Tampa Bay's most difficult foes with a 23-9-5 series advantage.
It is a game that, as amazing as it sounds and depending on how the Hurricanes fared Saturday night, could be for at least a share of second place in the weak Southeast Division.
Most importantly, though, the Lightning knows it needs to string together a couple of solid efforts to really get turned around.
"Obviously, everyone feels better about themselves," right wing Mike Johnson said. "But it has to be a tempered enthusiasm. We have to carry it over to (tonight) or it means nothing."
"This," left wing Fredrik Modin said, "is a huge game for us."
The Lightning has teased before.
It played back-to-back excellent games last month against the Penguins (a 3-2 loss) and Thrashers (a 5-2 win), but followed those with dreadful losses to the expansion Wild and Devils.
It came back with a fine 4-2 victory over the Rangers, then tanked against the Red Wings and Senators and was outscored 11-1.
A huge comeback with three goals in the final 3 minutes, 48 seconds earned a regulation tie against the Hurricanes. But the sequel was a blowout loss to the Rangers.
"It's been really up and down," Modin said. "I can't really put a finger on why it hasn't worked. I know it's something we have to work on and this is a good chance to do it."
Against a red-hot Islanders team, it hit hard and often, skated well, got excellent goaltending from Kevin Weekes and played steadier down-low defense.
It also got to celebrate a dramatic victory highlighted by Johnson's game-tying, short-handed goal with 24.2 seconds left in regulation and Craig Millar's winning goal 2 minutes, 46 seconds into overtime.
"It felt good, really good," Modin said. "Everybody was smiling. It's been a while since we had that feeling."
It's no mystery how to keep it.
"Logic would dictate everyone wants to win and we know it's a much better time when as a team you are successful," Johnson said. "We have to come with a good effort. That's what good teams do. That's what we're striving to get to."
Johnson, who assisted on Millar's winning goal, said that applies to him as well. The Islanders game was his best since Ludzik moved him and Todd Warriner off Vinny Lecavalier's line before Tuesday night's game against the Hurricanes.
"I haven't played the kinds of games I have expected of myself," Johnson said. "But a good game from me is no different than the team in that we're striving for consistency."
"I expect them to play the way they are capable of and how they know they can play," Ludzik said. "I expect them to play with their hearts."
Which just might get the coach to crack a smile.
WHEN/WHERE: 6; Ice Palace, Tampa.
RADIO: WDAE-AM 620.
THE LOWDOWN: Depending how the Hurricanes did against the Sharks on Saturday, tonight's game could be for at least a share of second place in the Southeast Division. The Capitals defeated the Panthers on Saturday to remain on top. Before Saturday's late game, Tampa Bay was a point behind Carolina. Washington's Peter Bondra has 33 goals in 33 regular-season games against the Lightning. He leads the Capitals with six goals and 11 points. The Lightning's 53 goals-against were nine more than any other team. After allowing two power play goals in eight shorthanded situations Friday night against the Islanders, the Lightning's penalty-killing efficiency is down to 80 percent (59 of 74). Kevin Weekes is expected to be in goal for Tampa Bay for his seventh straight start. Olaf Kolzig is expected to start for the Capitals. Washington is on a 13-0-3 streak within the division. It is 1-5-3 on the road this season. Washington leads the series 23-9-5 and is 13-4-1 in Tampa. The Capitals were 5-0 against the Lightning last season and outscored Tampa Bay 25-10.
-- Compiled by Damian Cristodero.
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