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Lightning defenseman Boyle is in a rhythm

Listening to music is part of a routine that's led ex-Panther to career highs.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003

TAMPA -- This is how Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle prepares for a game: a little chicken and pasta for lunch, a three-hour nap beginning at 1 p.m. and some Foo Fighters on CD.

The Foo Fighters thing is not a hard and fast rule like the other aspects of Boyle's routine.

"Yeah, it changes," Boyle said of his musical preference. "But definitely something quick and energetic."

Kind of like Boyle's game, which in its fifth NHL season finally is getting the showcase he wanted.

Maybe that's why, as the season has transitioned from the December/January grind to the excitement of a playoff race, entering today's game against the Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum, Boyle's stomach has not tightened. If anything, he feels even more comfortable.

"It's a good nervousness," Boyle said. "I'd like to think that I'm making good plays out there, so it's a fun time to play, that's for sure."

"He's a pretty relaxed guy," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "But you don't want to get the wrong read. He's not so relaxed to where he is carefree and isn't accountable. He's accountable."

Wasn't that always the knock on Boyle's game -- that he wasn't accountable, especially on defense?

Boyle, 26, always has been ready, willing and able to leave the defensive zone. In fact, he said that when the definitive picture of his career is painted, it will show him with arms raised after a goal.

So prior to the season, Tortorella made Boyle a deal. Handle your responsibilities behind the blue line, the coach said, and there will be no limits on what you can undertake on offense. Boyle listened and learned.

Playing in a system that allows defensemen to get involved in the offensive rush has helped the Ottawa native produce career highs of 11 goals, 35 assists and 46 points.

Entering Saturday's games, he was third in scoring among the league's defensemen, and the Lightning is 16-8-6-3 in games in which Boyle has a goal or assist. He is a team-best plus-9.

"We told him it isn't shinny hockey and we expect him to compete defensively," Tortorella said.

"He has met us there and then some. We're very pleased as how he has handled that situation."

Quite a difference from what was going on when Boyle was with the Panthers. He and coach Mike Keenan did not see eye to eye, and Boyle spent more time on the bench than the ice.

With injuries depleting Tampa Bay's defensive depth, Boyle, who averages a team-high 23:56 of ice time, played 33:23 on Wednesday against Atlanta and a career-high 34:13 on Friday against the Hurricanes.

Tortorella said he did not hesitate to continually play Boyle because he is an efficient skater. Boyle said he was not tired after the double duty, and felt "pretty good."

"He's an important man for us offensively and defensively," Tortorella said. "I think he really looks at this as a great challenge."

"I've been begging for the opportunity to play regularly," Boyle said. "This is what I've been saying all along. Now it's just a matter of doing it night in and night out, not just for one good season and fall apart after that."

Boyle, stolen from the Panthers in January 2002 for a fifth-round draft choice, has a nice slap shot and can carry the puck end to end.

He has shown good consistency. Boyle went through a nine-game stretch in November in which he did not get a point but was plus-1. And after going minus-3 on Feb. 11 against the Islanders, he rebounded with three goals and two assists and is plus-5 during the Lightning's five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2).

"If we can win the majority of our games down the stretch, we're going to be in," Boyle said of the playoffs. "I don't want to have to go home in April. I want to stick around for a while."

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