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LIGHTNING 5, RANGERS 2 // Kid stands up to Rangers

Last time Derek Wilkinson saw these guys, the kid was in Madison Square Garden _ making his NHL debut.

Four months and three whole games of experience later, Wilkinson got another look at the New York Rangers. This time, the stakes were higher and the circumstances even more daunting.

But the Lightning's 21-year-old No. 3 goalie _ playing the third period in relief of usual backup Jeff Reese, who opened in relief of usual starter Daren Puppa _ came up big in a game he expected to watch from the stands with the 18,090 fans at the ThunderDome.

Wilkinson let nothing by in those final 20 minutes, maintaining a one-goal lead as the Lightning beat the Rangers 5-2 and picked up another precious two points in its quest for a playoff berth.

The Tampa Bay troops rallied around Wilkinson, who preserved the victory for Reese. Brian Bellows scored the first two goals, and Shawn Burr got the third in the second period. John Cullen and John Tucker added insurance goals in the third for the 31-35-9 Lightning, which jumped over Washington and into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Burr got a disputed goal at 16:19 of the middle period, when the rebound of a Paul Ysebaert wrist shot bounced off the boards and apparently off one of Burr's skates before sliding into the net of Glenn Healy.

Wilkinson, called up from the minors four times this season, primarily for practice and emergency backup purposes, was winless with a 5.00 goals-against average in his three NHL starts.

He got the call only when Reese succumbed to dehydration during the second intermission. And Reese got the start only because Puppa's second child was born a half-hour before game time.

With the Lightning keeping play out of its zone as often as it could during that last period, Wilkinson (a 5-4 loser to the Rangers in his Nov.

8 debut) did not have to do too much work.

But when challenged, he answered. Wilkinson made a pad save on Rangers scoring leader Mark Messier less than four minutes into the third and later cradled the puck after a Brian Leetch shot hit his mask.

He finished with seven saves, then was mobbed by teammates. The last to great him was Reese, who offered Wilkinson an extended hug and a pat on the head.

After Cullen and Tucker got their goals in the period's final 10 minutes, Wilkinson was able to settle down and preserve his one-period shutout.

The Rangers scored the first and last goals of the opening period against Reese, who battled dehydration. Bellows got his pair in between.

Sergio Momesso, acquired by New York in a four-player trade with Toronto last week, got his second goal in three games with the Rangers by converting on a power play 2:42 into the game. Momesso scored from in front with a Luc Robitaille pass that deflected off Tampa Bay defenseman David Shaw, playing for the first time after missing seven games with a sprained left knee.

The Rangers' second also came on a power play, 23 seconds after Brian Bradley went off for hooking. Messier got his 42nd of the season, tapping in a Leetch pass that went through Reese's crease to make it 2-2.

Bellows scored his first just more than a minute after Momesso's, getting the puck outside the blue line and carrying it in before taking a slap shot from the right circle that beat Healy high to the glove side.

His second came on a rebound. Roman Hamrlik one-timed a Bradley pass, and Bellows was in the slot when the puck bounded off Healy's shoulder.

The two goals gave Bellows 20 for the season, the 13th time he has reached that milestone in a 14-season NHL career.