Habs swept aside

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET


 On the books, it was a sweep. In the minds of many Tampa Bay Lightning, it was a lot closer.

 But the inescapable fact is that the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 last night to take the Eastern Conference semi-final series in four games, and will now face the winner of the series between the Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers.

 "It could be 2-2," Lightning coach John Tortorella said after the game. "You never know in these games. That's what you have to be careful about when you assess your hockey team.

 "It's a fine line, and we've been fortunate to get a key play at the right time to win a hockey game."

 That was especially true in the two games in Montreal. No matter how well the Canadiens played -- and they did indeed play well -- the puck had a knack for bouncing the wrong way at a crucial time.

 "I was thinking about that," Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier said. "We had a lot of lucky bounces, but when you work hard, sometimes bounces happen,

 "Even though we won four straight games, I think Montreal played very well."

 And last night, the first big break went not to the Lightning but to the Canadiens.

 Tampa Bay defenceman Dan Boyle was carrying the puck out of his own end when he suddenly blew a tire. As he sprawled helplessly on the ice, Joe Juneau pounced on the puck and slid it over to Niklas Sundstrom, the man who shouldered much of the blame for Montreal's overtime loss in Game 3.

 MADE MOST OF IT

 Given a chance to redeem himself, Sundstrom made the most of it, moving in on Nikolai Khabibulin and beating him with a backhand.

 But that was the highlight of the evening for the Canadiens. The Lightning scored a pair of goals in the second period and added an empty-netter by Freddy Modin in the final minute.

 As was the case on Tuesday, the Canadiens tried to establish a physical presence. But the result was that of the first six power plays, five went to the Lightning. It was inevitable that the Canadiens would pay the price.

 It wasn't a particularly pretty goal -- Lecavalier's shot deflected off Boyle's skate and found its way between the legs of Jose Theodore -- but it got the Lightning back into the game.

 The Canadiens tried to mount a counter-attack, but without Richard Zednik, who hurt his knee in the first period and never returned, it was difficult.

 Then came another one of those little mistakes that murdered the Canadiens in this series. Jim Dowd had the puck in the neutral zone when he opted to leave a drop pass.

 Coaches hate plays like that when the puck's eventual destination is in doubt, because too many teammates are trapped if the pass doesn't work.

 Sure enough, the puck was scooped up by Brad Richards, who immediately went to the attack with most of the Canadiens trailing the play.

 Dimitry Afanasenkov and Richards moved in on Theodore, and Richards finished the play with a beautiful roofed backhand that gave Theodore no chance.

 After that, the Lightning assumed a defensive mode and effectively shut down the Canadiens.

 "I never thought it would be 4-0 for either team," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "They're a good team. They played well. They've got a lot of character.

 "But it shows where we're at. There are still some doubters out there. There are a lot of good teams still out there. But I think we opened some eyes."


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