But he and Lightning mates will have to be satisfied with trying to win finale.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001
WASHINGTON -- Matthew Barnaby is going to have a lot of free time on his hands, and the Lightning wing isn't looking forward to it.
Tampa Bay plays its season finale today against the Capitals at the MCI Center, meaning Barnaby, who came to the Lightning from the Penguins, and who also played for the Sabres, will be out of the playoffs for only the third time in his nine seasons.
"It's tough," Barnaby said. "It's just a little disappointing. Playing the regular season is all fine, but the real fun starts in the playoffs. It's going to be tough to watch it on TV."
But coach John Tortorella is glad things are coming to a close.
The team needs a break, he said. With the playoffs a figment of the Lightning's imagination since January, the season became one of self-improvement. And while that is a worthy goal, after a while, even the most well-intentioned lectures and lessons from the coaching staff begin losing effectiveness.
"To not have anything at the end is hard," Tortorella said. "We've gone a long time playing to try to improve and compete.
"For us to be in that situation for so long, you need to get away from it."
That said, Tortorella is sure his team will come out strong against Washington.
The Southeast Division-champion Capitals historically have dominated the Lightning. To tweak them right before their first playoff game would be satisfying and another indication Tampa Bay's big March, in which it won a team-record eight games, was no fluke.
More importantly, a lazy effort would short-circuit a lot of the positive energy generated from Thursday night's spirited battle with the Rangers.
A little too abstract? Then let's consider the obvious.
"This is our job," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "We don't want the organization to look foolish. You play it as hard as you can and try to win the damn thing."
"There's a saying," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. "You're only as good as your last game.' I hope a lot of guys are thinking that way and will put a good effort forward."
Cullimore has a unique perspective among Lightning players. The 28-year-old, who has been Tampa Bay's best back-liner, is the only player with four years with the team.
"I think for this time of year, this team has handled it better than others," he said.
"We're still focused to win games and not waiting to take the rest of the summer off."
"I have no complaints as far as their work ethic," he said. "That's what youth brings and that should be a given. They have been very attentive.
"We haven't accomplished all the things we want to accomplish, but they have improved and worked very hard through this."
Too bad, then, the record took a downturn after March's 6-0-0-1 streak.
The Lightning is 1-6-0-1 in its past eight. A victory would leave a good taste and provide some juice for a summer in which Tortorella expects the players to dedicate themselves to preparing, especially physically, for next season.
From the glass-is-half-full department, Barnaby said some of the losses might have helped Tampa Bay's development. For example, it was quite the buzz-kill to get whipped by the Devils at home soon after playing so well in March.
Barnaby said the game reinforced how far the Lightning has to go. At the same time, he said, the opponent or circumstances should not affect effort.
"We're paid a lot of money to play this game," he said. "If you can't give 100 percent every night, there's something wrong."
You might as well watch the game on TV.
WHEN/WHERE: 3 p.m.; MCI Center, Washington.
TV/RADIO: Sunshine Network; WDAE-AM 620.
THE LOWDOWN: Wade Flaherty will get his second start in net for the Lightning. ... LW Fredrik Modin, who leads the Lightning with 32 goals, will sit out with a jammed left hip. G Kevin Weekes (groin strain) is out. Nikolai Khabibulin will back up. ... The Capitals are without F Chris Simon, serving the second of a two-game elbowing suspension. ... Going into Saturday night's games, the Capitals had the league's second-best home power play, 46-for-183 for a 25.1 percent efficiency, and the fourth-best overall, 75-for-348 for a 21.6 percent efficiency. ... Washington's Adam Oates led the league with 69 assists and 37 power-play assists. Peter Bondra led with 22 power-play goals. G Olaf Kolzig was fifth with 36 victories. ... The Capitals are 3-7-0-2 in their past 12 and 4-4 in their past eight at home. ... The Lightning is 1-6-0-1 in its past eight. ... Washington is 23-9-6-2 at home. The Lightning is a league-worst 7-27-3-3 on the road. ... This is the fifth meeting. The Lightning is 1-3. ... The Capitals lead the series 26-10-5 and are 11-5-4 at home.
-- Compiled by Damian Cristodero.