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Lecavalier might return tonight vs. Blues

After a 12-game absence, the Lightning captain could play despite a broken foot unless the pain is too great.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


BRANDON -- The factor that determines when Vinny Lecavalier gets to play is how much pain the 20-year-old Lightning captain can endure.

Lecavalier, out since Jan. 12 when a slap shot fractured his left foot, is listed as day to day.

Medical trainer Dave Boyer said the second metatarsal has not healed. That didn't stop Lecavalier from going through a spirited one-hour practice Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum and saying he hopes to play tonight against the Blues at the Savvis Center.

"It's feeling better every day," Lecavalier said. "But there are still certain movements I can't do."

Such as making a tight turn -- "I feel unstable," he said -- and balancing on the foot to crank a one-timer. If the pain is tolerable at today's morning skate, Lecavalier could be back in the lineup.

That would be a welcome relief for Tampa Bay, which has struggled since Lecavalier was injured, going 2-9-0-1 with 23 goals in 12 games.

Lecavalier has 15 goals and 19 assists in 42 games. Though he was struggling with one goal in 16 games when he went down, it is obvious his presence gives defenses much to worry about. That affords the players around him, especially those on other lines, more room to operate.

"Any time you have one of your best offensive weapons out of the lineup, it makes other teams more able to key on other aspects of the game," center Brian Holzinger said.

Said coach John Tortorella: "He upgrades our team offense and doesn't allow teams to check one line. It gives you a little balance."

The Lightning will need that against the Blues, who have allowed a league-low 115 goals and have the NHL's best home record, 21-3-3-2.

Cracks in the armor: Defenseman Al MacInnis (eye) is probably out, and defenseman Chris Pronger (knee surgery) is definitely out. Goaltender Roman Turek (elbow) is out, and Brent Johnson will start in his place. "Let's face it, they're one of the best teams in the league, if not the best," Tortorella said. "We've got to take care of our end zone and be really smart and patient. We have to go zone to zone. We can't turn the puck over and have to get in on the forecheck."

All that would be easier with Lecavalier in the lineup.

While out of the lineup, Lecavalier has seen the game from a new perspective -- on television.

"The thing you notice most," he said, "is that you have a lot more time than you think you do on the ice."

Because of the addition of right wing Matthew Barnaby and the reworking of lines to accommodate Lecavalier's absence, Tortorella said he is not sure who Lecavalier's linemates will be when he returns. He will decide when the return is official.

"Obviously, we miss him," Tortorella said. "He can score a big goal, and we've been so close in so many games. Maybe he scores a big goal and we win three or four of those games that we've been so close in the third period."

Tonight: Lightning at Blues

WHEN/WHERE: 8; Savvis Center, St. Louis.

TV/RADIO: Sunshine; WDAE-AM 620.

THE LOWDOWN: This is the first of two meetings between the teams. ... Lightning C Vinny Lecavalier (fractured left foot) will decide today whether he plays. ... The Blues will be without D Chris Pronger (knee surgery) and likely will be without D Al MacInnis (eye). ... The Blues will start Brent Johnson in goal.... St. Louis has the NHL's best home record at 21-3-3-2. The Lightning has the NHL's worst road record at 4-20-2-3. ... The Blues are 11-2-1-1 against the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay is 2-12-1-0 against the Western Conference. ... The Blues' 87.9 percent efficiency on the penalty kill (218-for-248) is the league's best. ... St. Louis is 1-2-1-1 in its past five games. Tampa Bay has lost 15 of its past 18, including an overtime loss. ... The Lightning has not beaten the Blues since February 1997, a stretch of five games. Tampa Bay's last victory in St. Louis was October 1992, a stretch of seven games. ... The Blues lead the series 12-4-2 and are 7-1 in St. Louis. -- Compiled by DAMIAN CRISTODERO.

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