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Rout helps alleviate Lightning's doubts

Lightning center Brad Richards can admit it now. He was nervous about the team's current four-game road trip.

Long plane rides, little rest, scrappy opposition. It seemed treacherous.

But Tampa Bay has traveled with sure footing, picking up five of a possible six points in three games in western Canada with a chance to add two more Tuesday against the lowly Penguins, who have dropped seven in a row at home.

"You had to feel a little worried about the way the schedule looked coming into it," Richards said. "But to play the way we have, it's been pretty good."

It will be difficult to improve on Saturday night's dominating 6-2 victory over the Flames.

Martin St. Louis put a boot to his former team with a hat trick and four points. Vinny Lecavalier tied a career high with three assists.

Richards and Tim Taylor each had a goal and an assist, and goalie John Grahame made 18 saves for his seventh victory in his past nine starts.

The Lightning, 8-2-0-2 in its past 12, also moved six points ahead of the second-place Thrashers with three games in hand.

Most impressive, though, was that for the third consecutive game, Tampa Bay responded after the opposition scored first and did not finish a first period worse than 1-1.

The blip came Wednesday, when Tampa Bay led 3-1 in the first against the Canucks but lost 5-4 in overtime.

Pavel Kubina's goal 4:08 into Thursday's game answered Edmonton's goal at 29 seconds and sparked a 3-2 victory. St. Louis' power-play goal with 40.4 seconds left in the first tied the Flames.

"Our team has learned that you don't give in and you keep doing the things you're supposed to do as a club and to stay within the system," coach John Tortorella said. "When they score a goal, it's okay. Next shift, we go out and take care of the neutral zone and get back into our forecheck. It's just a matter of staying mentally sound and staying within ourselves."

It also is a matter of confidence since the players put a 4-12-3 stretch behind them and are 9-6-1-1 in their past 17 on the road.

St. Louis, who has team highs of 22 goals and 27 assists, is leading the way with 16 goals and 12 assists in his past 20 games.

"We believe again," Lecavalier said. "We're more aggressive and playing with more confidence. Every line is playing well."

And looking toward wrapping up an already impressive road trip.

"To win at home is so important in the NHL," Richards said.

"But to go on the road and do what we've been doing lately, it's huge. It just proves we can win in any building, and we're confident and ready to go."

"We don't really care if we're on the road or at home," Lecavalier said. "We want to win every single game."

NOTES: The Lightning's eight victories in January tie a franchise record for wins in a month. St. Louis' hat trick was the third of his career and second in six games. His four points tied a career high. Richards has six goals and 10 assists in his past 16 games and scored the past two winners.

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