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Best Lightning ever?

LIGHTNING 1, PREDATORS 0: Kevin Weekes' second shutout is Tampa Bay's 15th win, its third in a row.

[AP photo]
Predators defenseman Karlis Skrastins slides in to cut off Lightning right wing Sheldon Keefe, right, from the puck in the first period.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 27, 2001

NASHVILLE -- Tell the Predators not to feel too bad.

Yes, they lost 1-0 to the Lightning on Wednesday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. And their franchise-best 11-game unbeaten streak at home came to a grinding halt.

But Nashville can take solace that it lost to -- in one sense, anyway -- the best Lightning team ever.

No team, not even the 1995-96 playoff squad, had 15 victories at this point in the season. But after 35 games, that is where Tampa Bay stands.

"That's great. That's just where we want to be," left wing Fredrik Modin said.

But the Lightning did not dwell on that little piece of history.

"It doesn't mean anything right now," Modin said. "We have to keep playing and playing well."

"It means," coach John Tortorella said, "absolutely nothing."

We hear ya, John. But considering the Lightning has lost at least 50 games (including overtime losses) in four consecutive seasons, any ray of hope looks more like an atomic blast.

So when Modin got the winner, his 11th goal and third in two games, off a feed from Brad Richards 7:35 into the third period and Kevin Weekes sewed up his second shutout and eighth of his career with 31 saves, it was time for the shades.

With the victory, the Lightning:

Moved into second place in the Southeast Division behind the Hurricanes, who, by coincidence, face Tampa Bay tonight at the Ice Palace.

Moved to within four points of the Canadiens for the final playoff spot in the East.

Broke Nashville's seven-game unbeaten streak and the seven-game streak of goaltender Mike Dunham.

Tied the Avalanche with a league-high seven shutouts. (Nikolai Khabibulin has five).

Surpassed the former team mark of six shutouts set in 1996-97 by Corey Schwab and Rick Tabaracci.

Won three straight for the first time since March.

Got its sixth road victory, one less than last season.

Won its third consecutive one-goal game to improve to 8-11 in such games after starting 4-10.

In many ways it was a typical Lightning game. The team was outshot 31-22 with good defense keeping scoring chances to a minimum and outstanding goaltending when it was needed.

The formula came in particularly handy Wednesday as the Lightning tried to shake off the rust of a four-day Christmas break.

"What they do is boring to watch, but it's effective," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.

The difference was that Weekes kept Nashville from cashing in on its chances, and Modin beat Dunham on his.

"We were cycling the puck," Modin said. "I was trying to get into position to shoot the puck and Richey got it to me. I fanned a little bit on the shot and I think that's what got him fooled. I think it hit his stick and trickled beneath his legs."

"I made a mistake," Dunham said. "I should have had it. It hit my stick and went in."

Compare that to what the Lightning did in the third period.

Outshot 10-7 (better than the 14-5 count in the second period), Tampa Bay killed off a high-sticking penalty to Jimmie Olvestad at 16:12, as well as the final minute when Nashville pulled Dunham for an extra skater, with little threat.

And then there was Weekes. Though outstanding in the third period, he was at his acrobatic best in the second when he dove to grab a puck that bounced off Nashville's Vitali Yachmenev and Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore and was floating toward the net.

"We got great goaltending from Kevin tonight," Modin said. "We score one goal and we win a game. It's pretty nice when that's all it takes."

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