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Lightning gets Canadiens Friday in East semifinals

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published April 20, 2004

Martin St. Louis is ready for the onslaught of phone calls from friends, the requests for tickets, the lure of going home for dinner for mom's famous spaghetti and meatballs.

But the Lightning wing said he will keep such interactions to "a minimum" the next little while. He is going home to Montreal for business, after all, not pleasure.

"They understand this is a big time in my career," St. Louis said Monday night. "I'm going to focus on the team."

His team ... not the Canadiens, though facing them in the East semifinals beginning Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum is going to be something to remember for St. Louis and the other Tampa Bay players with ties to the city.

St. Louis, from the suburb of Laval; center Vinny Lecavalier, from the suburb of Ile Bizard; and wing Andre Roy, from St. Jerome, about 30 miles north of the Montreal; grew up Canadiens fans.

Center Brad Richards grew up on Prince Edward Island but gained great notoriety playing three seasons of juniors in Rimouski on the province of Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula.

"It's cool that we get to go to Canada and play an NHL playoff game," Richards said.

"It's the hockey world up there, and we get to play against them."

Lecavalier said he was at the movies when he got the news.

"When I found out we were playing the Canadiens," he said, "my heart started racing."

Said Roy: "It'll be crazy, that's for sure."

The Lightning will have to keep its wits against a motivated Canadiens team that for the first time in its storied history won a seven-game series after trailing three games to one.

Roy said he was impressed with the way Montreal "never quit."

Richards noticed how "they keep coming at you."

St. Louis said he expects the games to be close.

The teams split four games this season with each winning once on the road.

The Lightning is 7-5-0-0 in Montreal the past six seasons.

"I'm excited," St. Louis said. "We've done well there in the past. But they're a tough team, and they play well in their building. They get that place rocking.

"At the same time the Islanders are a good team, too, and their place was rocking."

"They are very similar to us," Richards said.

"They have some young guys who picked it up.

"They have some older guys who are a big part of it and a hot goalie."

It is quite a scene when the Lightning goes to Montreal.

Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards are swamped by reporters during the morning skates and after games. Every question must be answered twice, once for the French media and once for the English.

Add friends and family, and Lecavalier admitted it will be a challenge to keep focused.

"It's not about putting on a show or giving a show," Lecavalier said. "We just want to win. I'm just going to be ready to play every single game.

"I'm going to see my parents when we're in town. I haven't seen them for a while. But I have to be ready for every game and every practice."

With an eye on the Canadiens.

"I grew up watching these guys in the playoffs," St. Louis said. "To be there, it's going to be a lot of fun."

"It's like a baseball player wanting to play against the Yankees," Richards said.

"Even more for the guys from Montreal."

EAST SEMIFINAL TICKETS

Lightning vs. Canadiens, Friday, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa. Game 2 is Sunday at the Forum. Games 3 and 4 at Montreal tentatively set for April 27 and 29. Times TBA.

TICKETS: From $39.25 to $127.75. There are 200 $8 seats on sale game days only at box office. All others available at box office, through Ticketmaster at (727) 896-2658 and (813) 288-2658, or see ticketmaster.com and tampabaylightning.com.

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 01:20:37]

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