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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montr?al Canadiens @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Lightning lead 3-0.

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EDT.

Even on a night when Nikolai Khabibulin allowed three goals for just the second time in the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning still had enough to move within one win of their first conference finals appearance.

Khabibulin and the top-seeded Lightning look to complete a sweep of the Montreal Canadiens when the teams meet in Game 4.

Brad Richards' second goal of the game 1:05 into overtime gave Tampa Bay a 4-3 victory Tuesday night at the Bell Centre and pushed Montreal into an all-but-hopeless situation.

Richards' tally came after Vincent Lecavalier scored his fifth goal of the series with 16.5 seconds remaining in regulation to get the Lightning into the extra period. The timely scoring gave Tampa Bay its sixth straight victory in these playoffs.

"It's a scenario that you lie in bed and dream about when you're a kid," Richards said. "It's unbelievable. An overtime goal in the playoffs is great anywhere, but to do it in Montreal, it's just so much fun."

Khabibulin has gotten much of the attention for carrying the Lightning with his brilliant goaltending, but Tampa Bay's offensive stars have provided key goals throughout the postseason. The Lightning especially needed Lecavalier, Richards and Martin St. Louis, who assisted on the tying and winning goals, to step up in a game that saw Khabibulin give up three goals, matching his high in these playoffs.

The New York Islanders beat him 3-0 in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals.

Khabibulin wasn't able to shut down Montreal on Tuesday, as rookie Michael Ryder and Patrice Brisebois scored in the third period to give the Canadiens a one-goal lead. But the Lightning kept their poise and rallied for the victory, impressing coach John Tortorella.

"I think the most important thing in playoff hockey is handling those type of situations," Tortorella said. "We always talk about surges, we always talk about those types of plays - they come back and score two in the third period, but we still have time."

Khabibulin finished with 28 saves and made several outstanding stops, including 13 in the second period when he thwarted Alexei Kovalev from the crease and stopped both the initial shot and rebound from Steve Begin.

Cory Stillman added a short-handed goal for Tampa Bay.

The Lightning have frustrated the Canadiens with their steady, confident play in this series, so Montreal tried a more aggressive and physical approach to open Game 3. Referees Paul Devorski and Rob Shick handed out 34 minutes in penalties in the first period, including nine minors against Montreal.

The tactic didn't work against the young Lightning, who played Montreal to a scoreless tie in the first period before going on to drop the Canadiens to 0-3 in overtime in this postseason.

The Canadiens overcame a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history against Boston in the first round, but they must know a berth in the East finals is little more than a dream at this point. Only two teams have overcome 3-0 deficits to win playoff series, the last being the 1975 Islanders.

"When you win, you don't need to say if, and you don't have to go through the plays over and over again," Montreal captain Saku Koivu said. "Hopefully we can find some positive things and take everything we can from this game for the next one."

Montreal natives St. Louis and Lecavalier haven't been rattled by the raucous crowd at the Bell Centre, and instead appear to be feeding off the energy. The players had plenty of supporters in attendance Tuesday night, though they had little chance of being heard over the partisan crowd.

Lecavalier's tying goal, however, quieted the home fans.

"It would have been a great feeling anywhere," said Lecavalier, the top overall pick in the 1998 draft who grew up idolizing the Canadiens. "Anytime you score a big goal with a few seconds left and then win in OT, it feels great.

"It's always extra special for me to play in Montreal in front of my family and friends."

Lecavalier and St. Louis are certain to be motivated to put together repeat performances Thursday and end the series in their hometown, especially after the Canadiens had their best effort of the series and still couldn't win.

If Montreal manages stays alive in the series, Game 5 would be at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Lightning - 1st seed; beat New York Islanders 4-1, quarterfinals. Canadiens - 7th seed; beat Boston Bruins 4-3, quarterfinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Lecavalier, 5 goals; St. Louis, 7 assists and 11 points; Lecavalier and Chris Dingman, 12 PIM. Canadiens - Kovalev, 6 goals; Koivu, 8 assists and 11 points; Sheldon Souray, 39 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Lightning - Power play: 11.4 percent (4 for 35). Penalty killing: 82.6 percent (19 for 23). Canadiens - Power play: 13.5 percent (5 for 37). Penalty killing: 89.2 percent (33 for 37).

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Khabibulin (7-1, 4 SO, 0.99 GAA); John Grahame (no appearances). Canadiens - Jose Theodore (4-6, 1, 2.42); Mathieu Garon (0-0, 0.00).

Associated Press
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