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Lightning strikes first

Posted: Sunday, May 09, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. It took the Tampa Bay Lightning just one period to get back into the flow of the playoffs.

Showing little rust from an eight-day layoff between series, the Lightning won their eighth straight playoff game Saturday by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.

''I think, overall, if you ask a lot of guys, I don't think they felt as good as they thought they might,'' Tampa Bay's Brad Richards said. ''But at the same time, as the game went on, I think our game kind of calmed down and we played a little bit better.''

Richards, Dave Andreychuk and Chris Dingman scored and Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 19 shots for the Lightning, who beat the Flyers for the fifth straight time this season and improved to 9-1 in these playoffs.

Game 2 is Monday night in Tampa.

''I'm definitely not discouraged,'' Philadelphia goaltender Robert Esche said. ''We didn't come in here by no stretch of the imagination assuming it would go four games, and I don't think they did either.''

One of the biggest questions before the opener was how Tampa Bay would respond after having more than a week off following its four-game sweep of Montreal in the second round.

The Lightning finished off the Canadiens on April 29 and bided time by trying to simulate game-like situations in practice until Philadelphia clinched its second-round victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

''I thought our guys handled themselves very well in getting themselves settled,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said.

With just three days between series, the Flyers were the sharper team early. Nevertheless, they failed to take advantage of a couple of scoring chances against Khabibulin in the first period and fell behind 1-0 on Andreychuk's goal just over two minutes into the second period.

''One thing we try to focus on as a team is stay levelheaded, not to get too emotionally high or low,'' Philadelphia's Jeremy Roenick said. ''We thought we had a really good first period. We had some quality chances and they weathered the storm pretty well.''

Philadelphia, which had an apparent goal by Sami Kapanen wiped out by a goaltender interference call against Keith Primeau, tied it less than five minutes later when Michal Handzus knocked in a rebound after Danny Markov's pass glanced off the center's skate and ricocheted off Khabibulin's pad.

The goal was just the 10th the Tampa Bay goaltender has allowed in 10 playoff games. And it was all the Flyers would be able to manage, despite outshooting the Lightning 20-17.

Richards snapped the 1-1 tie with 6:26 left in the second period and Dingman made it 3-1 seven minutes into the third period.

''I think we created enough opportunities. They defended the front of the net well,'' Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''They had a goals-against average under one. That's pretty impressive. They obviously know how to play defense.''

Philadelphia, which lost all four meetings between the teams during the regular season, was left to wonder what might have been if Kapanen's scoring opportunity had been allowed six minutes in.

The officials waved off the goal when Primeau on a breakaway crashed into Khabibulin after losing his balance in front of the net. Kapanen tapped in the rebound as the goalie scrambled to his feet to complain.

Primeau said he was told a penalty was called because he gave Khabibulin a shove when he fell into the goalie. The Flyers captain denied that.

''I'm trying to make a play, and I fall, and we scored on the rebound,'' Primeau said. ''I'm not going to give the goalie a shove when we have a scoring chance.''

Notes: The Flyers are 6-0 at home in the playoffs, but dropped to 2-4 on the road. ... Fredrik Modin had assists on Tampa Bay's first two goals and has a team-leading 13 points in the playoffs. ... After taking nine shots in the opening period, the Flyers were limited to 11 over than last two. ... Lightning assistant coach Craig Ramsay coached the Flyers to the conference finals in 2000 when they lost to New Jersey in seven games. ... Forward John LeClair was the only player in uniform for Philadelphia who was with the Flyers when they faced Tampa Bay in the playoffs in 1996. He had four goals in that first-round series, won by Philadelphia in six games. ... The crowd of 21,425 was just the second sellout Tampa Bay has had at home during the playoffs.



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