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Lightning hopes players get room

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO and BRANT JAMES
Published April 8, 2004

TAMPA - It is no surprise the Lightning built its team for speed rather than brute force. That is what the league said it wanted to emphasize.

With an eye toward increasing offense, the NHL announced, through memos to the teams and pronouncements to the media, clutching, grabbing and obstruction were going to be targeted.

As the Lightning begins the East quarterfinals tonight against the Islanders at the St. Pete Times Forum, general manager Jay Feaster wants to know those standards will be maintained.

"It's one of those things we're looking at as we go into the postseason. Are we going to be able to play?" he said. "Will we be able to do that high-octane thing, or does it become a rodeo and you've got guys riding you and lassoing and literally tackling. If it starts looking more like that, I don't know."

The Lightning, with 166 goals, is the league's highest-scoring team since Jan. 3. But the team is frustrated by what it perceives as a tolerance of obstruction, especially as it pertains to 5-foot-8 MVP candidate Martin St. Louis.

"We talk about all the rules changes and how we want to open up the game," Feaster said. "I believe we have sufficient rules in the book right now that would enable us to open up the game if we called them the way they're printed, and we did it 82 games and into the postseason."

"We will know how it's going to be called pretty early," coach John Tortorella said. "That's an important thing. Understand how it's going to be called and then do the things you have to do. If there's going to be a lot of clutching and grabbing and interference, you have to fight through it. We're not going to whine. We're going to fight through it."

ERIC THE READY: Barring last-minute reconsideration by Tortorella, rookie Eric Perrin will center the fourth line with Chris Dingman and Andre Roy in Game 1.

Admittedly nervous after playing in just four NHL games since his March 27 recall from Hershey, Perrin, 28, said he is happy there is little time to consider the weight of the moment. He has occupied his thoughts off the ice by spending time with life-long friend St. Louis and his in-laws, who live seasonally in Clearwater.

"Things happen so fast, boom-boom-boom," said Perrin, who has added speed and an offensive threat to his line. "Here's the situation, deal with it, and that's the way I like it."

Tortorella said the fourth line likely will remain a fluid unit, meaning Martin Cibak, who centered the unit for most of the season, is not necessarily displaced permanently.

"With the fourth line, if one guy is starting and one guy is out, that changes," Tortorella said. "We feel it's going to be a long series, and we'd like to be involved in the series. I think everybody will end up getting an opportunity to play, so it's just a matter of staying ready."

Cibak said he has been assured he will play at some point. "I'm mad, obviously," Cibak said. "I play here all year, and I try to work hard every game. But it's a coach's decision. I'm going to respect it and wait for my chance to get back in the lineup as soon as possible."

RATTLE: Rick DiPietro, in 2000 the first goaltender taken No.1 overall in the draft, has gone 28-38-8 with a 2.71 goals-against average in parts of four seasons with the Islanders - 23-18-5, 2.36 this season. But his playoff experience is all of 15 minutes in one game last spring.

Though he went 2-1 and allowed four goals in three games against Tampa Bay this season, the ultra-confident 22-year-old will be reminded by some Lightning players that it's a whole new game now.

"I imagine there'll be a few things going on out there," defenseman Cory Sarich said.

Don't expect the most playoff-experienced guy on the ice to do the talking, however.

"I'm not a guy who likes to do that," said captain Dave Andreychuk, who will play his 140th postseason game tonight. "I'm going to try and get in front of the net, and hopefully we can distract him a little bit. He's going to be just as nervous as the rest of us going into a playoffs series."

TICKETS LEFT: Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said hundreds of unsold tickets for the first two games of the series were returned by the league and Islanders, leaving about 3,500, mostly in the upper bowl, for each game.

"We might have thought more tickets would have moved (Wednesday) than did," Wickett said. "But we're not too stressed over it."

[Last modified April 8, 2004, 01:35:43]

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