© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2003
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sheldon Keefe had a feeling he might be sent to the minors.
The Lightning right wing was a healthy scratch for three consecutive victories, and with coach John Tortorella's reluctance to break up winning combinations, Keefe said he realized there was little chance of cracking the lineup.
Keefe was assigned to AHL Springfield on Friday to make room for defenseman Stan Neckar, who was activated off injured reserve.
"I've sat up and watched the way the guys have played the last few games, and they've played well," Keefe said. "So I understand why he's not changing the lineup."
Keefe was brought up Feb. 9 and played well in a 2-2 tie against the Thrashers. But when Tortorella went with a bigger lineup for the next game, Keefe lost his spot to left wing Chris Dingman, who has played four consecutive games after four scratches.
"That's just the way it goes, and Sheldon knows that," Tortorella said. "I've been totally up front with him."
"Obviously, I'd like to be here, play here, contribute here. And I think I can do that," Keefe said. "But there basically is no room in the lineup right now."
SPOIL THIS: With the Hurricanes 13 points out of the playoffs, coach Paul Maurice said the team is reluctantly accepting the role of spoiler.
"I think it's probably an unspoken awareness," he said. "It's a bittersweet role to be in. We're not really excited about it."
The defending East champions have battled injuries and a lack of offense and won two of 21 games.
"It's the biggest part of what you're going through," said Maurice when asked if the season was emotional. "You're constantly thinking, 'How did we get to this point?"'
SNAKEBIT: Should Vinny Lecavalier have been awarded a penalty shot on his failed overtime breakaway? The center appeared to have an unobstructed path to goalie Kevin Weekes when defenseman Aaron Ward whacked him on the left leg with his stick.
Lecavalier seemed to be falling as he got off a weak shot that Weekes stopped. Referees Kevin Pollock and Don Van Massenhoven said play on.
"I tried to make my move," Lecavalier said. "I didn't know if the guy tripped me. Obviously, I wouldn't have fallen on my own."
By Lecavalier's count, it was the 12th consecutive breakaway he has failed to convert.
"Missed opportunities," he said of the game. "But we can't do anything about it now. It's over."
ODDS AND ENDS: Neckar played after missing seven games with a strained groin. ... Left wing Andre Roy and right wing Jimmie Olvestad were scratched.