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Rare scorers lift Lightning

The first one is always the best.

Sunday, for defensemen Cory Sarich and Pavel Kubina, it was particularly sweet considering what it meant to the Lightning.

Sarich scored his first goal after a 150-game drought 3:45 into overtime to beat Carolina 2-1 after Kubina, returning from a two-game exile by coach John Tortorella, scored his first of the season midway through the third to tie it.

Both goals were set up by Vinny Prospal, who extended his point-scoring streak to seven games.

The Lightning opened a three-point lead over Carolina in the Southeast with its third victory in a row.

It has beaten the defending East champions twice this season. This one was a milder version of the brawl-filled 5-1 victory Oct. 12.

Sarich's goal was doubly sweet; not just because it won the game, but because the puck went into the net off of his stick.

The only other goal of his 226-game career came Nov. 24, 2000, against Florida, when defenseman Brad Ference deflected the puck into the goal.

"It feels great to get the monkey off my back," Sarich said. "I don't think I've ever been so excited in my whole career. Winning the World Juniors (championship) with Team Canada was great.

"Scoring my first NHL goal was great. But I think the second one was even better because it came off my own stick."

Thanks to Prospal, who set up Sarich alone in front of former Lightning goalie Kevin Weekes with a cross-ice pass from the right side.

"I just made an outlet pass to Nolan (Pratt)," Sarich said. "It wasn't the best pass, but he made a great play getting his stick on it and deflecting it right to Vinny. When that happened, the whole (Carolina) team seemed to focus on (Prospal).

"So I took off, and Vinny made an incredible pass right on the tape. I knew I couldn't mess that up because I don't get that close very often."

Kubina's goal, his first since April 7, came at the end of a give-and-go with Prospal. Brad Richards started the play on the right side of the blue line. His shot was blocked by Bates Battaglia, but Richards managed to kick the puck through Battaglia's legs.

Kubina picked it up and passed to Prospal on the right side then headed toward the net, took the return pass and shot the puck over Weekes' left shoulder. A Lightning power play had just ended after defenseman Aaron Ward was sent off for throwing an elbow at Ben Clymer's head.

"It's a great feeling," Kubina said. "I hadn't scored in a while, and it's my game to get some offense going."

Dave Andreychuk, one goal shy of 600, was parked alone at the left side of the crease.

"I never saw him," Kubina said. "I always look to pass the puck, and sometimes I get in trouble for that. I know I've got to shoot more."

Prospal doesn't talk much about his passing, preferring to pass the kudos back from whence they came.

"It's always nice when we can get contributions from different men scoring big goals like that in a tight-checking game," he said.

"I guess it means a lot for both of the guys."

Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 35 shots, the most this season and one more than Monday against Phoenix. Some were spectacular, close-in shots by Rod Brind'Amour.

"He gave us the chance to stay in the game," Prospal said.

The only goal Khabibulin allowed came 14:23 into the second period on a power play.

Andre Roy and the 'Canes Jeff O'Neill took unsportsmanlike conduct penalties at the end of a rumble along the boards. But the Lightning also was hit with a bench minor for too many men on the ice.

Jaroslav Svoboda passed from the right faceoff circle to Ron Francis, alone in front of Khabibulin. And he slipped it between the goalie's pads. It was Francis' 41st point in 51 games against the Lightning, the most by any player.