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A vintage Barnaby moment vs. Boston sets a Lightning example.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


TAMPA -- The puck dropped, and so did the gloves of Lightning right wing Matthew Barnaby and Boston's Andrei Nazarov.

It didn't matter who won the fight four seconds into Saturday's game at the FleetCenter. A message was sent.

"I didn't want him running around like an idiot all night, which he can do," Barnaby said after Monday's practice at the Ice Palace. "So we addressed it right at the beginning."

Barnaby paid dividends in his third game since being acquired from the Penguins for Wayne Primeau. He clogged the middle on the power play and scored when he tipped Pavel Kubina's slap shot.

But if you really want to know how Barnaby will help this club, check out those first four seconds. That was not goon hockey. That was gritty hockey, be-accountable-to-your-teammates hockey. The kind of hockey, for the most part, the Lightning has lacked.

And don't think the players, especially the younger ones, didn't notice.

"You skate with your head up a little more when guys like that are around," center Brad Richards, 20, said of Barnaby. "You feel a little better. It can't do anything but help."

The Lightning still lost, but at least the players stood up for themselves, unlike a recent game against the Hurricanes in which former goaltender Dan Cloutier was upended by Martin Gelinas and no one responded.

Against the Bruins, the Lightning engaged when things got rough, and defenseman Cory Sarich went toe to toe with the very tough Bill Guerin.

"We don't want a bunch of thugs running around out there, but it's part of how we have to grow as a team," coach John Tortorella said. "We have to develop team toughness. Matthew Barnaby will bring that."

Barnaby, 27, knows the eyes of the Lightning's young players are on him, as well as newly acquired defenseman Adrian Aucoin, 27. They are established. They have reputations. Barnaby knows they have been brought in for their skills and to set an example.

Instilling team toughness is one thing. It will be quite another to help pull the Lightning out of a funk in which it has lost 13 of 15 games and been outscored 26-3 in the third period of those losses.

It will be harder still, Barnaby said, because "this is the youngest team I've ever been around."

Which means, he said, most of what the team does and doesn't do is because of inexperience.

"In Pittsburgh, we could be down by three goals and we knew we were going to win," Barnaby said. "But we had guys who won Cups. And in Buffalo, we were older."

Barnaby said that when players lack experience, "guys become nervous. They're not confident they can make the play, and they play on their heels. They play not to lose rather than play to win."

And when the opposition scores, "It's up to the older guys to calm them down and start from scratch," he said. "Games aren't lost in a couple of minutes. You have to learn how to handle adversity. You've got to learn how to play on an even keel."

Part of that is learning the appropriate time to throw a few fists.

Tortorella said it was obvious the Bruins wanted a confrontation when it started Nazarov after the Lightning first listed Barnaby.

As the puck dropped, the 6-foot, 189-pound Barnaby said to the 6-5, 234-pound Nazarov, a fighting machine lately, "Let's go. It's time."

Time for Lightning players to start feeling better about themselves.

"It's just attitude," Barnaby said. "They have to believe in themselves. They have to believe they can make a play every time. We can't doubt ourselves.

"Be the guy. Make a play. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. If you're going to make a mistake, do it trying to make a play."

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