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Veteran to serve as Lightning leader

With lots of playoff experience, Darryl Sydor stands ready to speak up.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published April 8, 2004

TAMPA - Darryl Sydor admitted he doesn't have anything earth-shattering to say, and it's nothing his teammates haven't heard before.

But the Lightning defenseman will say it anyway tonight before Tampa Bay opens the best-of-seven East quarterfinals against the Islanders. And his teammates will listen.

They will listen because Sydor has played 116 postseason games, second on the Lightning to Dave Andreychuk's 139, and because he played in three Stanley Cup finals and won with the 1999 Stars.

They will listen because Sydor has lived through with Dallas what Tampa Bay, the No. 1 seed in the East, does not want to consider, losing in the first round to a team most expect it to beat.

"Being the No. 1 seed, all it does is get you the first two games at home," Sydor said Wednesday. "If you don't take advantage of it, it's no good. So we busted our butts to get that, but it's a clean slate. And I'll stress that."

The Lightning faces eighth-seeded New York tonight. The No. 2 Stars faced the No. 7 Oilers in 1997 and lost in seven.

Worse, Dallas swept the four-game regular-season series. The Lightning lost three of four to New York this season, and that is where Sydor said Tampa Bay could shift some of the pressure.

"Are we the underdogs? For some reason, we're not," Sydor said. "The reason is we're the No. 1 seed. But if you really want to get into it, we're the underdog. They beat us three to one, didn't they?"

"I think he's just going to relate to the players exactly what it takes to compete in the playoffs," coach John Tortorella said. "Darryl Sydor has gone through the wars and won a Stanley Cup. We can use him as a sounding board."

Sydor, 31, has been much more since being acquired in January from the Blue Jackets for Alexander Svitov.

The Edmonton native is a solidifying force on the blue line and gives the Lightning a much-needed good first pass from the defensive zone.

Sydor has just one goal and six assists in 31 games for Tampa Bay and said he wants to jump into the offense more consistently. But the pressure to elevate his game is vastly different from what he experienced with Columbus, where he was expected to lift the fourth-year franchise.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well," Sydor said. "I felt I had an opportunity to turn that thing around, and it never worked out. So in that sense, I still feel like I failed a little bit at that."

Losing made it worse.

"But you don't always learn things when everything is going well," he said. "Sometimes, you learn a lot from failure. It's a team thing. I knew that before, but I had never been on the other side of it and losing every night. That was the good part about coming here. Everybody has a good thing going. I don't have to put as much pressure on myself. I don't feel I have to do five things instead of worrying about just one."

Sydor, who also reached the final with the 1993 Kings and 2000 Stars, said family and friends in Edmonton heard relief in his voice after the trade.

"I've had numerous people tell me they could just tell I was rejuvenated about getting back to winning," he said. "There's a lot of energy in this room, and it was fun to come here and have that feeling you're going to do well and your team is going to win."

Which brings us back to tonight's game. Sydor said he isn't sure when he will speak to his teammates or for how long. Maybe it happens in private conversations, maybe with the group.

Defenseman Cory Sarich said it will be welcome.

"He's not overly vocal, but he picks his spots," he said. "He's been there before, and that will really stand out come the playoffs. That's where he's really going to show up and shine."

"Whoever is strongest on details, strongest with its effort, will win," Sydor said.

See, nothing earth-shattering. But very important.

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

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