Tortorella calls Isles 'a good hockey club'

Updated: April 21, 2004, 2:37 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella paused before answering the question.

His team is up 3-1 on the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, however Tortorella isn't assuming anything -- particularly the prospect of closing out a series on home ice for the first time in franchise history.

Game 5 is Friday night in Tampa, where the teams split the first two games of the best-of-seven matchup.

"We're not going back into the history books," Tortorella said Thursday. "Make no mistakes about it, the team we're playing against has gone through quite a bit of adversity throughout the year, especially in the last 10 or 15 games.

"That's a good hockey club. We have three, they have one. But you still have to get four. That's going to be a very dangerous hockey team [Friday] night."

Nevertheless, it's difficult to imagine the Southeast Division champions being any more confident after posting 3-0 shutouts in the last two games at the Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders won an Eastern Conference-leading 25 games during the regular season.

Nikolai Khabibulin has three shutouts in the series and stopped 113 of 115 shots overall. All four games have been decided by 3-0 scores.

And, after the Lightning didn't get any offensive production out of its top four scorers in Games 1 and 2, NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards have begun to assert themselves for Tampa Bay.

"We're just going about our business. That's the way we've tried to approach it," Tortorella said. "After the first couple of games, we didn't think we were playing at an intensity conducive to playoff hockey. I think we're slowly getting to that. There's still room for improvement."

Khabibulin clearly has been the difference.

After struggling to a 5-4-1 record in his last 10 regular-season starts and being criticized for a lack of consistency, he has lived up to his reputation as a world-class goaltender against the Islanders.

He tied a NHL record Wednesday night with his third shutout in the series and hasn't given up a goal since early in the third period of New York's win in Game 2. The Islanders haven't scored since Jason Blake's empty-netter in the final minute of that game.

"You are going as far as your goalie, that's not a lie. Khabby wants that pressure," St. Louis said.

"I don't care how well we play, if your goalie is not making the stops, it's tough. You need to score goals, too, but it all starts with good defense and he's the backbone of that good defense."

The Islanders, who won three of four from the Lightning during the regular season, don't have any illusions about what they have to do to send the series back to Long Island for a Game 6 Saturday night.

"Try and score a goal," coach Steve Stirling said. "When you get shut out three times, the best thing you can do is score a goal."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE