Lightning strike first

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

 There are disallowed goals. And there are crucial disallowed goals.

 The one called early in the game yesterday between the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning was very much in the latter category.

  The game ended with the Lightning earning a 3-1 victory in the opener of the Eastern Conference final, but afterward, the Flyers still were focused on the non-goal.

 It appeared to fulfil all their hopes. It gave them the all-important first goal, and it allowed them to dent goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin's invulnerability in a hurry, something that Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock had specifically spelled out as part of his game plan.

 It came when the still-rusty Lightning coughed up the puck to provide a two-on-nobody break for Keith Primeau and Sami Kapanen. Primeau made a couple of moves, then tried to jam the puck under Khabibulin. He failed, but as he fell over the goalie, the puck came loose and Kapanen fired it into the net at 6:02.

 But referee Brad Watson disallowed it.

 The Lightning, naturally enough, thought the call was a good one.

 "He runs into Nik," Freddie Modin said. "You can't do that."

 The Flyers, naturally enough, thought there was nothing wrong with the play.

 "It was a goal," Hitchcock said. "One referee had a bad night."

 A neutral voice, ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, saw it as the turning point in the game. And it may well have been. Like most teams, the Flyers play a lot better with a lead -- and they never got one.

 Instead, the Lightning opened the scoring in the second period on a goal by Dave Andreychuk. Michal Handzus brought the Flyers back, but before the period ended, Brad Richards put Tampa Bay ahead to stay.

 In the third period, on the post-season goal least likely to affect any pools, Chris Dingman scored with assists going to Andre Roy and Eric Perrin.

 It was a fairly even game with the difference being the Lightning's ability to capitalize. By their own admission, they got a few breaks, but such is the nature of the playoffs.

 Some nights you get them. Some night the opponents do. Yesterday, it was the Lightning's turn.

 Here's Andreychuk's description of the opening goal: "I just lost one of the 29 faceoffs that I lost (he was in fact 9-11) and we got a lucky bounce and it hits the referee. Mo (Modin) got it and I got position. It's just one of those lucky breaks."

 Richards' goal came when Mark Recchi, instead of banging the puck ahead off the boards, decided to float it out into the middle.

 A few nifty passes later, it was in the net. That was just the home team doing well to capitalize.

 Dingman's goal appeared to have an element of luck as well. He shot the puck into the Philly zone and it took a fortuitous bounce to Roy.

 Robert Esche made the save but Dingman scored on the rebound.

 However, the play wasn't as lucky as it seemed.

 "I just tried to bounce it off the boards there," Dingman said. "It seems if you put it off there, it comes right out to the faceoff spot."

 It was an excellent start for the Lightning, which hadn't played since April 29.

 "I think our guys found a way to get through some of the rust," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "I thought we played very well through the second half of that game as a team."

 But Hitchcock wasn't totally unhappy with his team which, for the most part, took the zip out of the vaunted Tampa offence.

 "I didn't notice their speed," he said. "I didn't see it.

 "They turned a lot of pucks over, which is good for us. That's a good sign. That means we're working."

 And in the long run, work usually evolves into success.


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