- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella’s sniping at Philadelphia counterpart Ken Hitchcock served its purpose. Relieved of much of the pressure for poor play in Game2 by the focus on their coach, the Lightning took it to the Flyers last night and reversed momentum in the Eastern Conference finals again with a resounding 4-1 victory.

Hitchcock, who guided Dallas to the Stanley Cup in 1999 and to the finals in 2000, had seemed to win the offday war of words, especially after the sellout crowd at Wachovia Center chanted “shut your yap” at Tortorella early in the first period.

However, Cory Stillman silenced the fans by ripping a drive from above the right faceoff circle between Robert Esche’s glove and the right post at 12:56 for what the Flyers’ goalie termed a bad goal. That deficit doubled at 15:20 as former Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko’s shot from the left circle dribbled off Esche’s glove and between his legs.

“It gave a little extra juice to the series,” Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said of Tortorella trying to put the more experienced Hitchcock in his place by telling him to “shut his yap.” “It definitely got us fired up. We want to back him up just like he’s a player. We’ve learned that when you come into another team’s building, you have to take the crowd out early.”

The young Lightning did just that, while Hitchcock termed the veteran Flyers “tentative” early. And yet when Philadelphia captain Keith Primeau, the best player on the ice, charged into the offensive zone, got a pass from linemate Simon Gagne and squeezed the puck past Tampa Bay goalie Nikolai Khabibulin from the lower right circle 36 seconds into the third period, the Flyers were within 2-1.

But before the din from the goal had dissipated, All-Star center Vincent Lecavalier took a long cross-ice feed from Martin St. Louis, outraced Mark Recchi and Vladimir Malakhov and rocketed a shot past Esche’s glove at 1:19 for his first goal of the series to re-establish the two-goal margin.

“That’s a tough goal, especially right after you score a big one,” Recchi said. “I don’t even know where [Lecavalier] came from.”

Tortorella did.

“It was a great pass by Marty, and it’s big for Vinny to get off the schneid in the series,” Tortorella said. “Your best players make big plays at key times.”

Brad Richards made it 4-1 at 8:20, completing a tic-tac-toe play with Andre Roy and St. Louis as top-seeded Tampa Bay regained control of its first conference finals. The Flyers were in the conference finals as recently as 2000 but haven’t won the Cup since 1975.

Esche, who had only 30 minutes of playoff experience before this postseason, wasn’t Philadelphia’s only weak link in the first period. The Flyers put one shot on Khabibulin — who was pulled during Monday’s 6-2 loss in Tampa — during their two power plays in the period.

Primeau and Gagne fed each other for superb chances among the Flyers’ six shots in the period, but Khabibulin turned both aside in a return to “The Bulin Wall” heroics that carried Tampa Bay past the New York Islanders and Montreal in the first two rounds and to a 3-1 triumph in Game1 of this series. Khabibulin had 24 saves in allowing one goal or less for the eighth time in 12 games this postseason.

“Nik was rock-solid, and we did a much better job in front of him,” Tortorella said.

Philadelphia had a better second period, generating four shots on an early power play and then killing a pair of short-handed situations. Just after the second penalty expired, Branko Radivojevic whipped a terrific opportunity past Khabibulin but over the net. The Flyers outshot the Lightning 14-8 in the period but came up empty.

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