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TB star almost ended Flyers' season

PHILADELPHIA -- Vincent Lecavalier struck early in the first
period and again in the opening minute of the second.

These Lightning bolts took the electricity away from the
desperate Philadelphia Flyers but it wasn't enough to end the
Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.

Instead of advancing to their first Stanley Cup finals
appearance in 12 NHL seasons, the Lightning are heading back to
Tampa to prepare for Game 7 on Saturday night after an
Orange-Crushing 5-4 loss in overtime.

No fault lies with Lecavalier, who was stellar from the opening
drop of the puck.

The Tampa Bay forward scored 1:28 into the game and then netted
the tying goal 45 seconds into the middle period to spark a rally
that gave the Lightning a 4-3 lead -- an advantage they let slip
away with 1:49 left in regulation.

Lecavalier has come a long way since a December benching by
coach John Tortorella.

The former No. 1 pick in the NHL draft has four goals and two
assists in the first six games against Philadelphia. That outburst
came on the heels of a five-goal, two-assist performance in Tampa
Bay's sweep in the second round against Montreal.

"In the Montreal series, things went great and that's where I
really got my confidence," said Lecavalier, a Quebec native.

Back in the winter, the 24-year-old alternate captain turned the
puck over on a drop pass and drew the ire of the fiery Tortorella.
Lecavalier compounded the problem by publicly accusing Tortorella
of holding back his creativity.

That led to a one-game benching.

But in what was the biggest game in Lightning history,
Lecavalier was the star Tampa Bay expected he would be when he was
picked first in 1998.

"Vinny played extremely well, and we need his game on
Saturday," Lightning forward Tim Taylor said. "It doesn't matter
who has stepped up or who has done what throughout the series. That
has no bearing on what Game 7 is going to bring.

"Now we're not looking at the past, what guys have done or what
they haven't done. It's all about Game 7 and what we're going to
do."

After a Philadelphia turnover at center ice early in the first
period, Lecavalier streaked down the right side on a two-on-one
with Ruslan Fedotenko, and rocketed a shot high into the net past
Robert Esche.

The Flyers owned the rest of that period and took a 2-1 lead
into the second period.

Lecavalier struck again.

For a second time, he got the puck in neutral ice and made
several shifty moves to create space as he crossed the Flyers blue
line. He let go a slap shot that whizzed past Philadelphia
defenseman Mattias Timander, who unintentionally provided a perfect
screen of his goaltender.

Lecavalier made a habit of quieting the orange-clad crowd
throughout the three games in the series in Philadelphia.

"He's played real well, both with the puck and without the
puck," Tortorella said. "He's an important player for us."

In Game 3, after the teams split two games in Florida, the
Flyers closed within 2-1 with an early third-period goal by Keith
Primeau.

The Lightning could have been on the verge of collapse, but
Lecavalier got loose in open ice, took a pass from Martin St.
Louis, and scored a breakaway goal 43 seconds later to break the
Flyers' momentum.

But then, that was just the latest rebound in this wild season
for Lecavalier, who didn't record a point in five games in the
first round against the New York Islanders.

"In the first series, they can critique my play but we won,"
said Lecavalier, who said he is playing the best hockey of his
young career. "I've helped our team get into a great position."

With another game to play in the conference finals, the
Lightning could use one more sterling effort from their mercurial
forward.