Burke improves; return unknown

Published March 24, 2006

TAMPA - Thursday was a day of improvement for goalie Sean Burke and his fractured right index finger.

Burke practiced while holding a stick for the first time, and the five-stitch cut that had been oozing blood for days did not re-open.

But he still doesn't know when he might play.

"It's a cliche, but it's a day-to-day thing," Burke said. "It could be tomorrow. It could be next week. I don't know."

Burke was encouraged, however, by Thursday.

"I definitely got a feel for how much better it has gotten," Burke said. "For the first time using a stick in a week, it felt pretty good."

LONG-DISTANCE FAN: Martin Soldi, a native of Argentina who became a Lightning fan through the Internet, is in town until April8 to watch NHL hockey for the first time.

As Soldi, 23, became more of a fan, he found his way onto Lightning message boards, where he made friends. When fans learned it was his dream to see the Lightning in person, they donated money and arranged a garage sale. In all, they raised $1,095 to make Soldi's dream come true.

"It is amazing," Soldi said.

"I don't have the words to describe how this is for me. It's great. ... I can't believe I'm here."

Soldi arrived Saturday and will stay until early April. He will attend seven home games as well as the Lightning's game at Florida on April1.

After Thursday's game, he received a private tour of the Lightning locker room.

KIND WORDS: Coach John Tortorella had nothing but compliments for Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who is leading NHL rookies in goals and points. Here's Tortorella's take:

"He can play. It's great for our game because he is such a dynamic guy.

"The thing that this coach likes about him is he has got some jam to his game. All that talent and just the dynamic way that he plays, and (then) he brings some jam to it. He's the total package. He can be a one-on-one player but also can make a play and make another player look good. He does a little bit of everything. And in this league, when you have a talent level that high and play with the jam he plays with, then obviously, it's a complete package."

READY TO GO: Forward Rob DiMaio, out the past two weeks with a partially herniated disc, was removed from the injured reserve list but did not play. He likely needs another day or two of full-contact practices before he is ready to play.

He said he is pain-free for the first time in more than a month.

"So far, it feels pretty good," DiMaio said. "I feel like I'm 20 pounds lighter."