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Dings emphasize need for depth

FRANK PASTOR
Published March 14, 2004

TAMPA - Though neither is believed to be serious, injuries to defensemen Cory Sarich and Brad Lukowich Friday against the Rangers underscored the need for the Lightning to have depth along its blue line heading into the playoffs.

Lukowich received 17 stitches after he was slashed across the forehead by Bobby Holik. Sarich bruised a knee while blocking a shot, forcing Tampa Bay to finish the game with four healthy defensemen.

Of those who were scratched Friday, Nolan Pratt has played 53 games this season. But Darren Rumble has appeared in only five, and a groin injury has limited recently acquired Stan Neckar to one.

"When you're down to four (Friday) night, it's lucky we've got a nice lead at the time," associate coach Craig Ramsay said. "Thank heavens we've got Nolan, who is ready to step in at any time and did a very good job in the games that he got when (Jassen) Cullimore was hurt. And we know Stan, Stan knows us, and when he's healthy we certainly would have no problem tossing him in there."

Sarich returned Saturday against Carolina. Lukowich participated in the team's optional skate but was scratched. He said coach John Tortorella assured him it wasn't a reflection on his play.

"I feel good, I'm just getting a little ride in (on an exercise bike) and taking the night off," Lukowich said.

Though deeper than some of his others, the cut on his forehead was nothing new for Lukowich, who has earned the nicknames, "Stitch," and "Dartboard" after being hit repeatedly in the face by sticks and pucks this season.

"I get hit in practice, too, it's not just in games," Lukowich said. "It's unbelieveable. I don't know what the deal is. It just seems like I've got a magnet on my face."

CHASING HISTORY: With 84 points, right wing Martin St. Louis entered Saturday's game within two of Brian Bradley's franchise record for a season. Ramsay said he sees similarities between the players.

"You see other guys that always seem to be covered, but those guys like Brian and like Marty St. Louis, they find those little gaps," Ramsay said.

"When you look at Brian's career, to be in the same phrase as him at some point is an honor," St. Louis said.

POWERING UP: Tortorella recently expressed displeasure with the power play during a five-game stretch in which the team converted 1 of 16. But after going 1-for-2 Wednesday at Carolina and 2-for-4 Friday against the Rangers, Tampa Bay again is making teams pay for their indiscretions.

"Obviously, the power plays are big in the playoffs, so we want to make sure that we're creating chances and scoring goals on the power play," St. Louis said. "The last two games we've done that, and sometimes it's the difference in the game."

ODDS AND ENDS: Rumble, Neckar and left wing Chris Dingman also were scratched.

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