Tampa Bay won 4-0 (Game 1 of 4)

Tampa Bay won 4-0

Game 1: Friday, April 23rd
Game 2: Sunday, April 25th
Game 3: Tuesday, April 27th
Game 4: Thursday, April 29th

7:00 PM ET, April 23, 2004

Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida

1 2 3 T
MTL 0 0 00
TB 0 2 24

V. Lecavalier (Lightning - C): Goals: 2, Assists: 1

M. St. Louis (Lightning - RW): Goals: 0, Assists: 3

N. Khabibulin (Lightning - G): Saves: 21, Save Pct.: 1.000

Lecavalier, St. Louis get three points apiece

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Vincent Lecavalier insisted his playoff scoring slump was no big deal.

Two goals and an assist in Tampa Bay's 4-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal series didn't change the young star's perspective.

Jose Theodore


The Habs pulled Theodore after he gave up four goals on 28 shots.

"It feels good, especially to get the first win. But it's one game. There's still three left," Lecavalier said. "I'm happy tonight. The puck went in, but we've got to keep on going."

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday.

"You've got to give credit where credit is due," Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. "They played a great game. As bad as we played, and as well as they did, you have to respect that. It was one of those things where Lecavalier had some success. We expected this series was not going to be an easy one."

Lecavalier, a native of Montreal who grew up idolizing the Canadiens, didn't have a goal in 12 playoff games, dating to Game 4 of Tampa Bay's first-round victory over Washington last year. He hadn't had an assist in seven games, but fended off questions about the drought by saying he was happy as long as the Lightning were winning.

Truth is, with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on top of his game, top-seeded Tampa Bay hasn't missed Lecavalier's offense.

"It doesn't matter what me and Vinny did," said Lightning All-Star Martin St. Louis, who had assists on Tampa Bay's first three goals. "The bottom line is we got the win. That's the most important thing."

Khabibulin looked unbeatable again Friday night, stopping 21 shots to post his fourth shutout of the playoffs.

The Canadiens didn't take their first shot until more than 8 minutes into the game and Tampa Bay's aggressive forechecking limited Montreal to just five shots in the final period, enabling Khabibulin to make it look easy.

"He's played really well, and that's the kind of goaltending you need in the playoffs," St. Louis said. "There's no secret. You can play as well as you can, but if you don't get the goaltending, it's tough."

The seventh-seeded Canadiens entered the series coming off an emotional Game 7 road victory over second-seeded Boston, completing the first comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the team's storied history.

But with a week off after eliminating the Islanders from the first round in five games, Tampa Bay was the fresher team -- and Khabibulin was much sharper in goal than Montreal's Jose Theodore.

"I don't know if it's the effects of the last series or just being prepared well enough again," Julien said. "The one thing we do know is that we have to make adjustments."

Theodore gave up Tampa Bay's first goal, to Ruslan Fedotenko, when he was caught out of position after bending down to pick up his stick early in the second period. Lecavalier scored on a deflection late in the period, then made it 3-0 when he sent a shot between Theodore's legs just under 4 minutes into the third.

"I think everybody was surprised," Theodore said, recounting Fedotenko's goal off a pass from St. Louis, who dug a loose puck out of the corner.

"We had the puck, and then all of a sudden we lost the puck. He passed it to a guy alone. It happened so quick, I thought a lot of guys were caught by surprise."

Dmitry Afanasenkov scored to make it 4-0, and Julien yanked Theodore less than a minute later, allowing backup Mathieu Garon to finish the last 11:54.

The Canadiens likened the game to a 3-0 loss to Boston in the opener of their first-round series.

"We beat ourselves. There's no doubt about it. There's no other way to look at it. We need to be a lot sharper next game," Montreal's Craig Rivet said.

Teammate Saku Koivu agreed.

"The first game in Boston,we just didn't show up," Koivu said, "and we didn't show up tonight."

Game notes

The Lightning are the 26th team the Canadiens have played in their rich postseason history. Montreal's all-time road record in the playoffs is 158-159-4, including 2-3 this year. ... Fedotenko had one goal in his first 25 career playoff games. He has scored one in three straight. ... The Lightning outshot the Canadiens 34-21. Theodore faced 28 shots, making 24 saves.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press