Richards comes up big again for Lightning

MONTREAL (AP) -- Brad Richards finished what Vincent Lecavalier
started as the Tampa Bay Lightning swept their way to their first conference finals.

Richards scored his second straight winning goal as the
Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 Thursday night. Tampa Bay
handed the Canadiens just their second series sweep on home ice
after Buffalo did it in the second round in 1998.

"It's incredible, game-winners or not, just to come in here and
win in this atmosphere," Richards said. "You saw how the
atmosphere is at the start of the game and all that -- it's just so
much fun. It's the best time of your life, and you just want to
enjoy it."

The Lightning had never advanced past the second round in their
first 11 NHL seasons, but they now will have time off before facing
either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Philadelphia Flyers with a trip
to the Stanley Cup finals on the line.

"I think as you go through trying to get 16 wins to win a
Stanley Cup, you need to have some time to heal," Lightning coach
John Tortorella said. "To get a series done four straight is
certainly going to help us because we have some guys banged up."

The Flyers lead the Maple Leafs 2-1, and the earliest they could advance is Sunday.

"We're just going to watch those other teams battle it out,"
Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Hopefully they can go to
seven games and we'll be a little bit fresher for the next

Fredrik Modin scored into an empty net with 55.3 seconds
remaining for the Lightning, who have won seven straight playoff
games since losing Game 2 to the New York Islanders in the first

Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 27 shots, allowing only Niklas Sundstrom's goal 5:46 in. Khabibulin, who has allowed nine goals in nine games, leads NHL goalies with four shutouts and a 0.99 goals-against-average in the playoffs.

"Nic has been the backbone of the team, and everybody else has
contributed," Tortorella said. "That's what has to happen."

Richards and Lecavalier, stars as juniors in Quebec, combined to
make the Lightning just the fourth team to sweep the Canadiens in a
best-of-seven series.

Lecavalier, who scored five goals in the first three games --
including the tying goal with 16.5 seconds left in regulation in
Game 3 -- assisted on Boyle's first goal of the playoffs to tie the
score midway through the second.

"We were working hard, and I got a couple of lucky bounces, like
tonight -- I was trying to pass the puck to the point, and it went
off someone's leg and went in," Lecavalier said. "Sometimes
that's how it is."

Richards, who scored 1:05 into overtime in Tuesday's 4-3 win,
beat goalie Jose Theodore with a sensational backhand shot at 17:14
of the second period to silence the enthusiastic crowd.

Montreal didn't have much left against the top-seeded Lightning
after rallying from a 3-1 series deficit against Boston in the
first round.

"It is a very empty feeling right now," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. "To play for so long, go through so much, and then all of a sudden the season is done and there's no tomorrow for us."

Koivu -- who coach Claude Julien revealed was injured in the
first game of the playoffs and played with broken ribs, torn
cartilage and a bruised lung -- said on Wednesday that he wouldn't
consider this season a success if the Canadiens were swept by the

"It's a frustrating feeling, especially the way we played hard
the last two games," he said Thursday. "We played well, but we
didn't get the result."

Montreal came out aggressively in the first period and caught an
early break when Boyle fell down and turned over the puck on the
play that led to Sundstrom's goal.

Joe Juneau recovered the puck along the left boards and put a
backhand pass across the ice to Sundstrom, who drove down the right
side and flipped a backhander over Khabibulin's right leg.

The Canadiens outshot Tampa Bay 11-8 in the period but lost left
wing Richard Zednik to an apparent leg injury with 53 seconds

Zednik, reunited on a line with Koivu and Alexei Kovalev, already
had three shots when he put a pass from Kovalev off the crossbar
before he was tackled from behind by Modin.

Zednik was helped off the ice by Kovalev and didn't return.

The Lightning tied it on a power play 11:57 into the second when
Lecavalier's pass from the right corner struck Boyle's leg and
bounced past Theodore.

Richards got his fourth goal of the playoffs at 17:14 on a
give-and-go with Dmitry Afanasenkov.

Game notes
Lightning GM Jay Feaster was congratulated by Canadiens GM
Bob Gainey outside Tampa Bay's dressing room. "I don't even know
what to say," Feaster said. "He's such a class act, and he always
has been. He's a guy that I watched when he played. It's a real
class organization, and it's a great feeling to have him do that."
... The Lightning are 4-0 when they've had the chance to win a
playoff series. ... The Canadiens sold out each of their five
playoff games. ... Montreal also has been swept in best-of-seven
series by Detroit in the 1952 Stanley Cup finals and by Boston
during the 1992 playoffs. ... X-rays of Zednik's left ankle were