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Consistent production from their star players and solid goaltending has resulted in the Tampa Bay Lightning's best stretch of the season. Now, a third Southeast Division title in four years doesn't seem so unlikely.
Red-hot Vincent Lecavalier and the Lightning look to win their fourth straight on Tuesday when they host the Los Angeles Kings.
Tampa Bay (29-23-2) was languishing in fourth place in the Southeast just one month ago and figured to have a difficult time reaching the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Since then, however, the Lightning have won 10 of 12 and have moved into second place in the division, just six points behind Atlanta. Tampa Bay is seventh in the Eastern Conference, one point in back of Pittsburgh and two behind Ottawa.
Lecavalier's goal - his third in three games - with 8:07 left in the third period snapped a tie and lifted the Lightning to a 3-2 victory Saturday over the visiting New York Rangers.
The goal was Lecavalier's 33rd this season, moving him into a tie with Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.
Lecavalier has 12 goals and eight assists in his last 14 games. With 69 points in 54 games, he is on pace to easily surpass the career-high 78 points he had in 2002-03.
"He's one of the best players on the ice consistently this year," Lightning coach John Tortorella said.
Martin St. Louis, the NHL's second-leading scorer with 72 points, also has played a key role in Tampa Bay's resurgence. He set up two scores in Saturday's win, and has seven goals and 15 assists in his past 14 games.
While production from Lecavalier and St. Louis is expected, Johan Holmqvist's goaltending has been a pleasant surprise for the Lightning.
The 28-year-old Swede figured to serve as Marc Denis' backup, but has seized the starting job by going 8-1-0 in his last nine starts. He has allowed eight goals in his last five games.
Saturday's win improved the Lightning's home record to 13-13-0, a mark Tortorella knows needs to improve.
"It's very well chronicled what our home record is," he said. "We've tried the approach the last couple of days of not speaking about our home record, not trying to over-think it. We just want to keep on playing the way we've been playing. But it's there. The players know that."
Los Angeles (18-30-7) has the fewest points in the West, but is coming off its biggest win of the season, a 7-0 rout of Florida on Saturday.
Sean Burke made 40 saves for his 38th career shutout and Alexander Frolov and Michael Cammalleri each scored twice for the Kings, who had lost three straight and 10 of 11.
"We haven't had a lot of problems scoring goals this year - it's been keeping them out that's been the biggest problem," Kings coach Marc Crawford said. "Sean's come in and taken that burden away from us and it has given us a better feel for our team."
Burke, who turned 40 on Jan. 29, likely will face his former team for the first time since he was claimed off waivers on Jan. 18. Burke, the fifth goalie used by the Kings this season, appeared in 35 games for the Lightning in 2005-06.
The Lightning have at least one point in eight straight games against the Kings with five wins, two overtime losses and one tie.
|Feb 06 '07||LAK 2 at TBL 3 - SO||B. Richards|
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