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Lightning makes it count

Two lackluster offenses manage just one goal, and Tampa Bay gets it as Khabibulin earns his fifth shutout this season.

By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 7, 2001


TAMPA -- There are times when the Lightning wastes goaltending performances like Nikolai Khabibulin's Thursday because it cannot score enough goals.

Sometimes, one is enough.

Khabibulin tied a franchise record with his fifth shutout of the season as Tampa Bay beat the Blue Jackets 1-0 before an announced 12,209 at the Ice Palace.

"We didn't waste it," coach John Tortorella said of Khabibulin's 27-save effort. "Other nights, our goaltending has been very good and we come away empty. But Nik was very good, and we got two points."

The Lightning extended its home winning streak to five in its only home appearance in a three-week span. Having just returned from a three-game trip, the team leaves today on a five-game, 11-day trip to Canada.

Anything less than a victory against Columbus, the league's worst-scoring team with 54 goals in 29 games, would have made for a somber cross-continental flight.

The Blue Jackets, who lost 2-0 at Florida on Wednesday, have not scored in 135 minutes, 21 seconds. Tampa Bay's defense made sure the streak continued, limiting Columbus to five scoring chances in the first two periods.

"I thought the guys played probably one of the best, if not the best, defensive games all season," said Khabibulin, who improved his goals-against average to 1.94 and tied Daren Puppa's 1995-96 team record for shutouts in a season. "The middle was covered the whole game, and when we do that we have a pretty good chance to win."

More goals would be nice, though.

Fredrik Modin's 100th career goal broke a scoreless tie midway through the second period, but the Lightning failed to capitalize on several other chances. Columbus goaltender Marc Denis made two great saves, snagging quick shots by Modin and Stan Neckar.

Modin, who missed the Lightning's first two games in December because of a deep thigh bruise, has at least one point in his past seven games. With one goal in each of the past two games, he is the only Lightning player to score this month.

"We created a lot of chances," Modin said of his play with linemates Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. "We only had one goal. We should have scored a couple more, but a win is a win."

The Lightning, which tied a team record for wins through 28 games (11), might have gotten a break late in the third period. Blue Jackets wing Robert Kron appeared to tie it by poking a rebound past Khabibulin, but the play had been whistled dead by the referee, who lost sight of the puck.

The shutout stood.

Just 28 games into the season, the goaltending tandem of Khabibulin and Kevin Weekes matched the Lightning season record of six shutouts set in 1996-97. Weekes blanked L.A. on Oct. 13.

Though offensive consistency remains elusive, Khabibulin is not the least bit frustrated by the pressure put upon him. His save percentage of .938 seems a matter of routine.

"It's not going to be like this all the time," Khabibulin said of the Lightning's scoring struggles. "We're going to start scoring. And, hopefully, the defense will stay the same."

SELFISH IS GOOD: Tortorella loves that his star players are willing to pass the puck to open teammates. But what he really wants is for the big guns to shoot first, pass second.

"We want selfish; we want them thinking shot," Tortorella said. "If you're on the puck with a chance to shoot it and you're thinking pass, you're not going to get the shot."

Modin, whose goal Tuesday against New Jersey was the team's only goal on a three-game road trip, said the team must go back to basics.

"When you have a chance to shoot it, you need to shoot," he said. "Sometimes, you see someone open up who might be in a better position so you pass it. But if the play doesn't go through, you should have shot the puck."

BACK TO BACK: Columbus was the sixth team the Lightning played in the second of consecutive games for the opponent. Tampa Bay had taken advantage only once in the first five, a 5-2 win Oct. 20 against the Rangers.

BLUE-LINE BLUES: Bad passing and turnovers just inside its blue line have plagued the Lightning, Tortorella said. The inability to clear the puck has hurt the offense.

"We've had opportunities to get out of our zone cleanly and we haven't been able to do it," he said. "Our passing is not good. That first pass in transition is a big part of offense."

OUT OF ACTION: Lightning wing Gordie Dwyer and defenseman Sasha Goc were healthy scratches.

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