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Tortorella repeats call to protect St. Louis better

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 4, 2004

CHICAGO - For the second time in two weeks, Lightning coach John Tortorella called for league MVP candidate Martin St. Louis to receive more protection from referees.

Obstruction, elbows, face-washes, Tortorella said the wing has been the target of it all. But what really got the coach steamed was when the 5-foot-8 St. Louis was cross-checked from behind into the boards by Colorado's Steve Moore during the first period of Monday's 3-0 Tampa Bay victory.

"We're not whining about it, and Marty is going to battle through it," Tortorella said. "But there are still rules in this game. And with the added attention to Marty, I hope we stay within the rules."

The attention is no surprise. With 78 points, St. Louis is one ahead of Detroit's Robert Lang for the league lead. He has points in 13 consecutive games and 23 of 24 and was the league's offensive player of the month in January and February.

"I'm a little frustrated," Tortorella said. "But I hope as each game goes through here, I hope the refs see what's going on right now as far as the cross-checking and holding and hooking. We need to protect this guy."

Andy VanHellemond, the league's supervisor of officials, said he always is concerned about late hits and would review Moore's to see if referees Eric Furlatt and Bill McCreary missed the call.

But he said advising referees to watch individual players, whether they are perceived victims or perpetrators, is problematic.

"Once you start watching one person, that's the night he doesn't do anything and three or four other guys do something and you don't catch it," VanHellemond said. "You've got to try to see the whole ice, and that's where the skating and positioning of the officials lets them see the game and make strong decisions."

TRADE TALK: Might the Lightning stand pat before Tuesday's deadline? Despite the activity of other East powers, general manager Jay Feaster said it is possible.

"We're not closing shop," he said. "I talk to GMs on a regular basis. But it's not as though we sit here and say we have to do this in order to have a good club in the postseason. We feel good about the group we have."

Feaster reiterated he will not trade anyone off the roster. Of a deal, he said, "It will have to be something we feel makes a material difference (at forward) unless there is something to be done from a depth perspective on the blue line."

But he stressed, "We are not approaching Tuesday with any sense of having to do something."

CULLIMORE RETURNS: Jassen Cullimore played Wednesday after missing three games with a bruised right shoulder. The defenseman said he still has pain.

"Always when you come back from an injury, it's never really 100 percent," he said. "But you recognize when it's acceptable pain and when the risk isn't great as far as reinjuring it."

Tortorella praised Nolan Pratt for stepping in for Cullimore after 13 consecutive scratches and averaging 16:50 of ice time at plus-2 in three games. He said Pratt will "get some game looks ... to keep him sharp in case of injuries."

LINING UP: Tortorella said Andre Roy, Chris Dingman and Ben Clymer will rotate at fourth-line wing to help determine the line's configuration for the playoffs.

"I don't know when I'm going to stop it," Tortorella said. "I want them to have some game situations within them."

Dingman was scratched Wednesday off the line centered by Martin Cibak.

"If we're fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we have to make a decision on what that line is going to consist of," Tortorella said. "We need to be fair and allow people to play and have people ready."

PLAYER APPEARANCES: Cullimore and wing Ruslan Fedotenko will sign autographs at Autoway Nissan, 13600 Icot Blvd., Clearwater, from 1-2 p.m. today.

FRIDAY: About 2,900 tickets, mostly in the upper bowl, remain for Friday's home game against the Devils. That includes the usual 400 $8 seats available at 9 a.m. game day.

[Last modified March 4, 2004, 01:15:01]

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