- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Apparently all it took to awaken Tampa Bay's top scorers was to put them on the same line.

Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal combined for all four goals and three assists as the Lightning got back into the Eastern Conference quarterfinals with a 4-3 overtime victory over the host Washington Capitals in Game 3 last night. Game 4 is tonight back at MCI Center.

"There's obviously a lot more to do, but we're back in the series," St. Louis said.

With his inexperienced team having scored three goals in losing the first two games of the series at home to the veteran Caps, Lightning coach John Tortorella took Ruslan Fedotenko off his top line and replaced him with the speedy St. Louis.

"You're trying to find answers," explained Tortorella, whose team had lost its past 11 games at MCI dating to November 1998. "Obviously that line was very good."

Teaming the 5-foot-9 St. Louis with fellow playoff newcomer Lecavalier and left wing Prospal a veteran of four postseasons with Philadelphia and Ottawa paid immediate dividends. St. Louis fed Lecavalier for the game's first goal after 3:46, repeated his lead assist on Prospal's goal that gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead 3:44 into the second period and then scored himself on a pass from Prospal at 11:13 of the third period. Lecavalier then put home the game-winner 2:29 into overtime on a surprising 5-on-3 advantage.

"Scoring in overtime in the playoffs for the first time is very special," Lecavalier said. "I made sure if there was going to be a rebound [of defenseman Dan Boyle's shot], I would try and get it. Fortunately it was right there, and I turned around at the right time."

Lecavalier, the first pick in the 1998 draft, was more hindrance than hero in games 1 and 2. Not only didn't Lecavalier who tied for the Lightning lead with a career-high 33 goals this season register a point, he had a minus-3 defensive rating.

"I didn't produce the first two games, and I'm here to produce," Lecavalier said.

"The three of us played very well together. Marty's a great skater. Sometimes when you make changes, good things happen, and they did tonight."

The good things began when Lecavalier won an early faceoff with Jeff Halpern in the Washington zone and drove ahead as the puck squirted behind the net. St. Louis went after it and threw it back out to the streaking Lecavalier, who beat Caps goalie Olie Kolzig with a shot from the low right circle to give Tampa Bay its first lead of the series.

"You want to make sure that you get that first goal to get the confidence going," Lecavalier said. "I don't know what would have happened if they had gotten the first goal. That could have been a crusher."

After Dainius Zubrus tied the game at 11:34 of the first period, St. Louis, who played in his first All-Star Game this year and set career highs with 33 goals, 37 assists and 70 points, and Prospal, who led the Lightning with a career-high 79 points, combined to regain the lead. After Boyle got the puck into the Washington zone, it wound up behind the net. From there St. Louis beat Caps defenseman Calle Johansson to the puck and backhanded it out front to Prospal, who flicked it past Kolzig for his second goal in as many games.

Zubrus deadlocked the game 25 seconds past the midway point of the third period, but 48 seconds later, Prospal grabbed the puck off the boards, wheeled to center ice and dished ahead to St. Louis, who fired past Kolzig's glove for a 3-2 lead. Caps defenseman Brendan Witt's goal with 2:56 left in regulation set the stage for Lecavalier's heroics.

Of the 248 teams to trail a 7-game series 2-0 before this year, only 33 (13.3 percent) have come back to win, but St. Louis, Lecavalier and Prospal put the Lightning a quarter of the way there.

Tortorella noted Monday that the Caps have lost three of six previous series that they led 2-0, but as St. Louis said, "History won't dictate the series."



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