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Tampa Bay acts like a winner

LIGHTNING 5, THRASHERS 2: The team can hit the road with a good feeling.

photo
[Times photos: Dan McDuffie]
Nikolai Khabibulin makes one of his 39 saves as teammates battle the Thrashers’ Bob Corkum (No. 27) and Darcy Hordichuk in the first period.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001


TAMPA -- If ever the Lightning faced a must-win game, this was it.

With a stretch looming in which Tampa Bay will play eight of nine on the road, and with the worst team in the league at the Ice Palace, the Lightning had to make hay.

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The Lightning’s Grant Ledyard gets his body into it as he checks the Thrasher’s Ilya Kovalchuk into the boards during first period action Thursday at the Ice Palace.
It did, scoring a 5-2 victory over the Thrashers before an announced 11,421, the smallest home crowd of the season.

Nikolai Khabibulin, pulled after two periods in Tuesday's loss to the Bruins, made 39 saves as Tampa Bay was outshot 41-38. It was his fifth win in six games.

When Brian Pothier scored a power-play goal for Atlanta 8:38 into the third period, it ended Tampa Bay's scoreless streak at home at a team-record 158:46.

Pavel Kubina and Vinny Prospal each had a goal and an assist for the Lightning, which has won six of its past nine games. Brad Richards, Jassen Cullimore and Dave Andreychuk also scored.

On the downside, the Lightning lost left wing Fredrik Modin early in the second period because of a charley horse. He is day to day.

Tampa Bay coaches and players said the team must win when it should -- like against Atlanta, which has just 14 points -- if it is to climb in the standings.

"If you want to take the next step, that's what you have to do," Prospal said. "We've got to make sure we give them respect, but not too much respect."

"No disrespect to Atlanta," coach John Tortorella said, "but if we want to gain respect as players and as a team, we need to beat this team."

The first period was wide open with the Thrashers outshooting the Lightning 18-15. Tampa Bay came away with a 1-0 lead thanks to a power-play goal by Kubina and outstanding goaltending by Khabibulin.

Tampa Bay got the first chance to score when Richards had the puck in the slot and a wide-open shot at goaltender Milan Hnilicka. Richards held up on his first windup to clear out some traffic, then shot a bullet that Hnilicka went to his knees to stop.

Kubina got the Lightning on the board with a wicked wrist shot from the faceoff circle to Hnilicka's right 2:33 into the period. Vinny Lecavalier and Prospal got the assists.

Khabibulin sparkled numerous times.

He stopped Chris Tamer from point-blank range by going to his knees and using his stick. He stopped Todd Reirden's wicked slap shot from the high slot, then moved quickly to his right to stop the rebound shot by Dany Heatley, the league's top rookie scorer.

Heatley did connect at 14:24 of the third period to finish the Thrashers' scoring.

It appeared the Lightning had taken a 2-0 lead 32 seconds into the second period when Tim Taylor batted in a rebound of a wraparound attempt that Hnilicka stopped. But a video review showed the puck hit the inside post near the crossbar.

The Lightning broke through 16 seconds later when Richards put the puck top-shelf over a sprawling Hnilicka, with an assist from Modin, for his fifth goal.

Cullimore made it 3-0 at 9:13 with a slap shot after picking up a diagonal cross-ice pass from Kubina that bounced off the boards and right to the defenseman.

Andreychuk's goal at 5:25 of the third period made it 4-0. Prospal's goal wrapped up the scoring and was his eighth.

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