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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Lightning lead 2-1.

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT.

The top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning allowed the New York Islanders to even their first-round series with a convincing victory in Game 2. The Lightning didn't wait too long before regaining control.

Now Tampa Bay is looking to push New York to the brink of elimination as the teams get set to meet in Game 4.

The Lightning used their speed to get the Islanders back on their heels immediately in Game 3, skating hard from the outset and clogging up the neutral zone.

The result was goals from Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis in the first 6:32, and the Lightning also got 28 saves from Nikolai Khabibulin in a 3-0 victory Monday night. The win swung the momentum back to Tampa Bay after the Islanders took Game 2 by the same score Saturday.

"Nik was tremendous again," said St. Louis, who added an empty net goal in the third and recorded his first two points of the series. "He was the Nos. 1-2-3 stars tonight. He was the difference.

"Our desperation was as high as I've seen it, and we need it every shift. Teams will not go far in the playoffs if they are goofing around."

Tampa Bay has to be encouraged by having St. Louis and Richards finally play a major role offensively, but it's Khabibulin who looks like he could carry the Lightning into the East semifinals. His team was outshot Monday for the third straight time, but he earned his second 3-0 victory of the series.

"We have to be pleased, no matter what happens," said Khabibulin, who has stopped 80 Islanders shots. "It's nice to get the win, but at the same time, we have to get four wins."

With Khabibulin at the top of his game and St. Louis finally able to break free of the Islanders' checking, the Lightning will be looking to put a stranglehold on the series Wednesday. Limited to two shots in each of the first two games, St. Louis, the NHL regular-season scoring leader, had four shots in Game 3 and was the catalyst as Tampa Bay dominated the puck in the third period.

"We were probably gripping our sticks a little tight," Islanders captain Michael Peca said. "We knew full well that they were going to come out better than they have."

The Islanders won both games against the Lightning at Nassau Coliseum this season and posted one of the NHL's best regular-season home records at 25-11-4-1, but have lost three straight postseason home contests.

To bring that home-ice advantage into play Wednesday, Peca and his teammates will likely try to duplicate Tampa Bay's Game 3 strategy. They'll look to come out strong in an attempt to grab the lead and get their usually raucous crowd into the game. The home fans were only loud Wednesday during the third period, when they booed the Isles as the Lightning carried the play.

"Certainly, it's a game you learn from and move on to the next game," Peca said. "From experience, if you don't come out and get an early goal, the adrenaline tends to wash away, especially when you give up an early goal.

"Wednesday is very critical. We don't want to go back to the other rink at game point."

The pressure increases on 22-year-old goalie Rick DiPietro as New York tries to avoid a 3-1 deficit. DiPietro, who shut out the Lightning in Game 2, played well in Game 3 and made several key saves to keep it close. He stopped a partial breakaway by Dimitry Afanasenkov and then denied the rebound shot, finishing with 21 saves.

"I think it will be a long series, we didn't think either team would sweep," DiPietro said. "We realize the task at hand, but I think we are working hard."

Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore left in the second period with an undisclosed injury. His status for Wednesday is uncertain.

Game 5 is Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Lightning - 106 points; 1st seed. Islanders - 91 points; 8th seed.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Fredrik Modin and St. Louis, 2 goals; Richards, 2 assists; Modin and Richards, 3 points; St. Louis, 8 PIM. Islanders - Jason Blake, 2 goals; Mark Parrish, 2 assists; Blake, Parrish and Janne Niinimaa, 2 points; five with 4 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Lightning - Power play: 12.5 percent (2 for 16). Penalty killing: 90.9 percent (10 for 11). Islanders - Power play: 9.1 percent (1 for 11). Penalty killing: 87.5 percent (14 for 16).

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Khabibulin (2-1, 2 SO, 0.67 GAA); John Grahame (no appearances). Islanders - DiPietro (1-2, 1, 1.68); Garth Snow (no appearances).

Associated Press
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