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Lecavalier, St. Louis get three points apiece

4/23/2004

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.

"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.