By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000
TAMPA -- Sneezing, talking, laughing and breathing hard.
Even the simplest actions are painful for defenseman Paul Mara since Montreal's Craig Rivet pushed him in the back and into a goalpost Nov. 14.
Mara, who has been valuable this season, suffered a lower abdominal muscle bruise and could be out three more weeks, head medical trainer Dave Boyer said.
The injury affects the pressure on and around his pelvis.
"When (Mara) hit the post, it must have went in and banged on the inner abdominal muscles around the pelvis," Boyer said Wednesday. "I've never seen (this injury) before."
Mara, 21, averages a team-high 23 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time and has seven points. He hopes to return sooner than anticipated.
"Now that I know it's nothing really serious, I think I'll be back quicker than they think," Mara said. "I was scared a little before I took the MRI (Tuesday), thinking it could be something worse, but it wasn't."
The Lightning is down three key defensemen with four of its next five games against Southeast Division opponents.
Andrei Zyuzin (concussion) and Craig Millar (bruised rib tissue) are out. To add depth, defenseman Kaspars Astashenko was recalled from the IHL's Detroit Vipers.
"A lot of guys are getting the chance to play some hockey right now," coach Steve Ludzik said. "They're going to get a chance to show their stripes and colors."
Zyuzin, plus-2 with five assists, was placed on injured reserve and may ride an exercise bike Friday, skate Saturday and practice Sunday if he is feeling better. Millar, minus-2 in 10 games, is at least a week away from playing, Boyer said.
RETURN TO ACTION: After 11 months of rehabilitating a surgically repaired right knee, defenseman Sergey Gusev returned to the lineup and scored a goal 15:03 into the second period.
"It was exciting," he said of his first goal since Nov. 6, 1999. "I haven't scored for a long time. The goal really helped me."
The 25-year-old had major reconstructive surgery and arthroscopic surgery after injuring the knee Dec. 19.
"It was hard when you haven't played for 11 months," said Gusev, who reported no soreness after the game. "I tried to keep up, and I think I picked up the pace."
ODDS AND ENDS: Pavel Kubina's five points (one goal, four assists) set a career high. ... Team officials said 1,500 tickets remain for Friday's home game against Florida. ... Astashenko and left wing Nils Ekman were healthy scratches. Center Steve Martins (groin) did not play. ... Right wing Alexander Kharitonov (mild concussion) and right wing Stan Drulia (sore ribs) were injured and are day-to-day.