Bolts' lead nothing to do with luck

Updated: April 29, 2004, 1:10 PM ET
By Chris Stevenson | Special to ESPN.com

MONTREAL -- They are the plays that make SportsCenter, young Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier putting his stick back behind his left leg and flicking a puck into the Montreal Canadiens net.

Jose Theodore
While Jose Theodore hasn't been as sharp as Nik Khabibulin, he's not the Habs' problem.
Or Tampa's Brad Richards bursting down the wing and banking a shot in off the back of the left skate of Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore.

Lecavalier's goal tied Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal with 16.5 seconds left in regulation time and Richards' goal 65 seconds into overtime won it.

Two very noticeable plays to put the Canadiens into a 3-0 hole heading into Game 4 here Thursday night.

But back that tape up, say 20-30 seconds, and more often than not, you will see a small play, a detail taken care of, which leads to the splashy result.

"There are a lot of those little plays 20 or 30 seconds before something good happens," said Lightning coach John Tortorella.

They are not so noticeable, those countless high-percentage plays the Lightning have woven into the fabric of what they are now, a well-schooled, disciplined team that can overcome an energized opponent like the Habs.

"They're getting the bounces right now," said Canadiens captain Saku Koivu Wednesday as most of the Habs took a day off from the ice and reflected on the one that got away Tuesday night.

That is a very simplified way of looking at things.

And it is doesn't give the Lightning the credit they deserve.

Luck? The Lightning are making their own.

Was it lucky Canadiens forward Niklas Sundstrom couldn't get the puck out of his zone in the dying seconds of Game 3, leading to Lecavalier's nifty goal?

Was it lucky Lecavalier made a wonderfully creative play to tie it?

Was it lucky Tampa forward Fredrik Modin took away the boards -- as he has been drilled to do for years -- causing a turnover in overtime and leading to Richards' winner?

Luck cannot explain it.

"Everybody wants to write about the end result, but as a team and a coaching staff, we stress those little things. You now what they are called? Details," said Tortorella. "You don't have that, you may win some games, but you are not going to be successful at crunch time. Nobody even talked or wrote about (Modin). He takes the wall away and after the turnover has the presence of mind to kick the puck (to Richards). Those are the things as coaches you see as the foundation of being successful."

Tortorella also pointed to a play made by veteran Dave Andreychuk shortly before Richards got his first of the night on the power play for a 2-1 Tampa lead. Struggling to establish puck possession during their man advantages, Andreychuk stopped the puck up along the boards and settled things down.

"This is 30 seconds before we score," said Tortorella. "We get their penalty killing stopping their aggression and we get Marty (St. Louis) over there, but this all happened all the way over on the other boards. No one talked about that play. They're talking about Marty directing traffic, but (Andreychuk's) play was one of those key plays."

Modin told ESPN.com the attention to detail is something the Lightning have learned.

"I think it's another part of our game we're getting better at," he said, "doing those little things, the right things at the right time. Getting the puck in or the puck out at the right time. It's a point the coaching staff has stressed for a long, long time and a big reason for why we are where we are today."

The Canadiens are in this hole because the Lightning have done a better job of taking care of the details.

"Look at the tying goal. It's a matter of chipping the puck out," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. "We're going to say 'you're talking about Sundstrom.' Yes, we are talking about Sundstrom. I'm not pointing the finger at him and blaming him for the loss, but those are pucks that are on his stick and you want the pucks to get out and it didn't get out. The puck turns over and it winds up in our net."

"Our players have grown a lot this year in a lot of areas. Even (Tuesday) night if you look at the game, a lot of the things we accomplished, there are so many positive things to take out of the game," said Julien. "Just those little mistakes again made the difference in the game. Do you knock your team down for putting out the kind of effort it did (Tuesday)? Or do you just try to minimize and get better at the little things that cost us?"

The Canadiens put up a brave front, but the fact remains only two teams have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. They are drawing on the fact they came back from a 3-1 hole against the Boston Bruins in the first round which also included a tough loss, that time in Game 4 when they blew a late lead and lost in OT.

Fact is, the Lightning are not the Boston Bruins.

"We've been in this situation before and we all know what it takes to come back," said Canadiens center Yanic Perreault. "We don't want to look too far ahead. We need a big win (Thursday night) here in Montreal. We need to play the same way and get the result."

It also wouldn't hurt if Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore turned it up a notch.

Tampa goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has been better, something that's going to have to change if the Habs are to live for another day.

"No, I can't stand here and say Jose's outstanding and stood on his head," admitted Julien on Wednesday. "He's been good, but we also know that when Jose is on his game, there's not much that goes by him. But it's got nothing to do with pointing fingers. it's about asking Jose and the rest of the team to give the most that they can in order for us to win hockey games.

"If there's one thing our team has shown throughout this season is when it's gone through some tough situations, it hasn't given up. It's worked even harder. It showed determination, resiliency, everything you need in order to succeed.

"All you can ask of your players is the kind of effort they gave last night. We gave the effort that normally would give us the win. You're not expecting your team to come out with miracles, just a great effort like it did."

But as they learned in Game 3, against a team like the Lightning, even that might not be enough in Game 4.

Chris Stevenson covers the NHL for the Ottawa Sun and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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