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Lightning Frustrates Devils

The Tampa Bay Lightning are shedding their losers image.

Michael Sykora scored the game-winning goal with 17:39 left in the third period and Daren Puppa stopped 34 shots as the Lightning beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 Sunday.

The victory lifted Tampa Bay (6-6-2) to the .500 mark for the first time since Oct. 10, 1997 a span of 91 games.

"It's a whole different team. They understand now there's only one way to play," Lightning coach Jacques Demers said. "It all boils down to confidence and working hard. For the team to succeed, it has to play almost playoff hockey every night."

Michal Sykora was attempting a poke check when his stick hit Devils center Petr Sykora's stick, re-directing the puck past goaltender Martin Brodeur.

"What I tried to do was poke the puck away and make it hard on him," Michal Sykora said. "It was just a lucky bounce for me. I'm not even sure (if I hit the puck or stick), I just whacked at it."

Puppa was strong throughout and preserved a 2-1 lead by making a sliding pad save on a shot by Scott Niedermayer midway through the third period.

"It's big win for us. We haven't beaten these guys in a couple years," said Puppa, whose Lightning were winless (0-6-1) in the previous seven games against New Jersey. "It's adding a little more confidence for us."

Wendel Clark gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead, scoring his team-leading ninth goal at 12:59 of the first period. Craig Janney picked up his team-leading 12th assist on the goal.

New Jersey tied the game at 6:17 of the second period when Petr Sykora scored on a 2-on-1 break.

"I thought we played pretty well," New Jersey coach Robbie Ftorek said. "The guys were sharp and we played hard. We had to climb back in it, but Puppa made some good saves.

Tampa Bay's Darcy Tucker had an empty-net goal with 53 seconds left in the game.

The Lightning are 6-2-1 over their past nine games.

The Devils, who had won their last four road games, were without two key offensive players, center Bobby Holik and left wing Dave Andreychuk.

Holik was suspended by the NHL on Sunday, pending a hearing on Tuesday, for a hit on Florida defenseman Paul Laus in Saturday's game. Andreychuk bruised his sternum late in the Florida game and is day-to-day.

Lightning left wing Rob Zamuner, who had missed the past three games, is questionable for Tuesday's game against the New York Rangers after aggravating an existing groin strain.

Tampa Bay right wing Andrei Nazarov broke a finger on his right hand and will be examined by a hand specialist on Monday.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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