TAMPA - First shift of the game and the Lightning player sets up an opponent in his cross hairs and BAM! a check into the boards. A few moments later, another thunderous check. All game long: crash, boom, bang.
Andre Roy? Jassen Cullimore? Cory Sarich.
Try Vinny Lecavalier. Yeah, Lecavalier, the former No. 1 pick, the guy whose game is bent more toward flash and dash than crash and bang.
But it was Lecavalier, playing the role that Philadelphia's Keith Primeau played so well in the Eastern Conference final, who set the physical tone and tenacity level in the Lightning's 4-1 victory Thursday night. "I've tried to be more physical the last four or five games, especially in the first period," Lecavalier said. "It has been working and I am going to keep working at it."
Lecavalier said before the game that he noticed he was more into the play mentally when he dished out a few hits early. He learned that, he said, from Primeau.
The rugged Flyers center left a mark on Lecavalier, and not just from the checks he gave the Lightning star. Lecavalier noticed how Primeau took over games physically and, as a result, started to take over games offensively.
That happened Thursday. Lecavalier threw his body around like a crash-test dummy in the first period, then dazzled the crowd with a move of the postseason on the Lightning's first goal.
Lecavalier passed the puck to himself off the back of the Calgary net and turned the Flames' Stephane Yelle into a bobblehead. The sensational move led to the Lightning's first goal, a Ruslan Fedotenko rebound.
"I try it sometimes," Lecavalier said. "It's nothing."
Actually, it was really something.
"Vinny is a special player and he tries a lot of things most players don't," Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said. "He gets away with it. So it was nothing new for us to see that."
While Lecavalier's now-you-see-it-now-you-don't move was the talk after the game, Lightning coach John Tortorella had a different topic of conversation.
"Vinny is a talented player," Tortorella said. "But it's not the moves that I thought was the important part of Vinny's game (Thursday). I thought his presence was the most important thing. I thought he showed a physical presence.
"You look at him maturing, trying to show his team, "Hey, follow me.' So the moves, that's talent. But the presence that he showed was very important."
These days, Lecavalier's body looks like the bottom of an egg carton. He has bumps everywhere from all the slashes, cross-checks and punches he has taken over the past two months.
Still, he continues to throw his body around like he wants to go from "skilled playmaker" to "power forward" in the span of one postseason.
He still had a playmaker's night with a pair of assists. But he was more proud of the nasty edge he brought to the game.
"I want to be the kind of player who can bring a physical element to the game," Lecavalier said.
His coach is all for it.
"I think Vinny is beginning to understand that's a major element of his game," Tortorella said. "It allows him to get involved."