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Coach sticks by his player

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 27, 2004

TAMPA - Dmitry Afanasenkov was caught red-handed.

The Lightning wing's stick blade had an illegal curve (players are allowed a half-inch). So when the Maple Leafs, trailing 4-3 with 32 seconds remaining, asked for a measurement, Afanasenkov knew he had put his team in a precarious position.

"It was my fault," Afanasenkov said. "I knew it was illegal. I was just thinking about the game and wasn't thinking about it. It was my fault."

The Lightning killed off the power play to preserve Thursday night's victory. More interesting, though, was the reaction of Lightning coach John Tortorella, who let Afanasenkov off the hook and then said his players need to be smarter about using illegal sticks.

"I bet if you go through 75 to 80 percent of the players, they're playing with illegal sticks," Tortorella said of the league. "You've got to be smart. And now that comes to light. Each player has a legal stick and an illegal stick on that rack for a game. I think we have to be smart.

"If Toronto wants to call those types of calls, we have to be aware when we play them to have some legal sticks."

As for Afanasenkov, the coach said, "Disappointed, no. He's worked too hard. I'm not going to come down on him too hard there. The boys wanted to help him out and try to kill that off. They got it done and we move by it."

Afanasenkov said he will get rid of any illegal sticks. "For sure," he said.

CULLIMORE OUT: Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore sat out with a bruised right shoulder sustained Wednesday against the Thrashers. Head medical trainer Tommy Mulligan said the injury is not serious and it was not the shoulder Cullimore hurt last season. Tampa Bay had not lost a man game to injury or illness since Dec. 20, when wing Cory Stillman sat out against the Stars with the flu. The team's 15 man games lost are by far the fewest in the league. The Kings lead with 520.

The NHL does not keep track of the stat. The Canadiens keep an informal tally, and according to spokesman Dominick Saillant, the fewest man games lost by a team since the 1999-2000 season were 81 by the 2000-01 Devils.

Nolan Pratt, scratched for 13 consecutive games since the acquisition of Darryl Sydor, started for Cullimore.

ODDS AND ENDS: Leafs goalie Ed Belfour was supposed to start. But after taking shots during the morning skate, Belfour said his sprained back, which has caused him to sit for eight consecutive games, was too sore. ... The March 10 game against the Hurricanes has been added to Sunshine's schedule but will be shown on separate channels designated by area cable and satellite providers. ... Defenseman Darren Rumble and left wing Andre Roy were scratched.

[Last modified February 27, 2004, 01:31:31]

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