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Lightning rips Thrashers

Tampa Bay scores five straight goals in the second period in the most dominant win in franchise history, 8-2.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Mike Johnson, right, celebrates with Brad Richards after the rookie scored Tampa Bay's first goal. Richards added an assist and a goal.
TAMPA -- It was Lightning goalie Dan Cloutier's first start in a month, and he was nervous. He needn't have been. When his teammates weren't protecting him from Atlanta's shooters, they were blasting their way into the Lightning record book.

So what, coach Steve Ludzik said. The two points the Lightning earned in its 8-2 victory over the Thrashers on Wednesday night were more important than the record they set for goals in a game.

"Who cares about the eight goals," he said. "That's good for stats, but big deal."

Tampa Bay took Ludzik's directive -- and the shouts of an announced 12,637 at the Ice Palace -- to heart. It shot the puck a lot. The Lightning peppered two Atlanta goalies with 33 shots, only the second time it has outshot the opposition this season. The first time: Oct. 15, in a 5-2 win over Atlanta.

"It seemed like they had an extra attacker out there," Atlanta's Adam Burt said. "They were coming in waves."

Brad Richards' two goals and one assist -- he has six points in two games against Atlanta this season -- and Pavel Kubina's goal and team record-tying four assists led the barrage.

Tampa Bay's five second-period goals matched the number it gave up in the second period of a 6-2 loss at Dallas two nights earlier. The seven goals they piled up in two periods matched what they managed six times in three periods in franchise history.

"We should have been prepared for a team that Dallas beat pretty badly," Atlanta coach Curt Fraser said. "We came out and were behind right away. ... Tonight we tried to play like we were the Dallas Stars, and we can't play like that."

Cloutier, back after a bout of tendinitis in his left biceps, allowed two weak goals but sparkled at times and earned his first win.

"When you come off a long layoff like I had and they score eight goals for you, and they're blocking shots for you when there's one minute left in the game, what else could you ask for," Cloutier said. "I was a little bit extra nervous. ... The first period I was a little rusty. I didn't feel comfortable out there. But I got better as the game went on."

And so did the Lightning, whacking the team it beat once in five tries last season.

Said Ludzik of Cloutier: "He did a good job. He got the win. That's all we ask him to do, get the win for us every night."

The Lightning beat starting Atlanta goalie Milan Hnilicka four times on 17 shots, but things got only worse for the Thrashers when they pulled him midway through the second. Scott Fankhouser was riddled for three goals on seven shots in 125 seconds before the second period ended.

The victory, which kept the Lightning one point behind first-place Carolina in the Southeast Division, was the first of six games in 10 days, five of the games against division opponents. It continues with a Friday-Saturday home-and-away series against the Florida Panthers, a bitter rivalry that has sometimes turned violent -- even in this preseason.

After 19 games last season, the Lightning was 7-11-1-1 with 16 points, much like this season's 7-9-2-1 and 17 points -- but that's where the similarity ends. At this point in 1999, Tampa Bay was fourth in the division, 10 points behind the first-place Panthers.

The Lightning broke on top when Richards, standing to the right of the Atlanta net, deflected Alexander Kharitonov's shot from the right point past Hnilicka. Richards then set up shop behind the Atlanta net and found right wing Sheldon Keefe in front for a 2-0 lead. Richards scored his second goal in the five-goal second.

"I went four or five games without a point, then got one in Toronto and scored against Dallas, and I think that carried into (Wednesday night)," Richards said. "One goal in Dallas and now two; that can't hurt the confidence. It can only help."

* * *

UP NEXT: Lightning vs. Panthers, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Ice Palace, Tampa. TV/RADIO: Lightning Hockey Network, WDAE-620 AM.

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