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Good leaders hold Tampa Bay Lightning AHL affiliate together

TAMPA — D Matt Lashoff, who spent most of this season with AHL Norfolk, said it would have been easy for the Admirals to "spiral out of control very quickly" after coach Jimmy Johnson was made a Lightning assistant by GM Brian Lawton. "There are a lot of very good leaders there," said Lashoff of former Tampa Bay players Ryan Craig and Adam Hall and longtime minor-leaguer Mitch Fritz. "Those guys kind of took control of the situation."

Johnson, 13-2-2 after taking over for fired Darren Rumble, was elevated Feb. 24 to replace fired Wes Walz. Both moves were strongly opposed by Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet.

Lashoff, called up Wednesday, said Norfolk players were shocked at the change because they seemed headed for the playoffs after a slow start. "You finally pull it together, so it wasn't so much you were upset, but you were like, 'What now?' " Lashoff said. "We had such a good thing going."

Assistant Leigh Mendelson became coach. Ben Eaves, 27, the strength and video coach, also is behind the bench. Norfolk is 6-6-2 under Mendelson and fighting for its playoff life. Lashoff gave the new coaches high marks. Still, he said, losing Johnson was a blow because "he knew what he wanted and what he wanted out of us."

"You would think a situation like that had the chance to destroy the team," Lashoff said. "But a lot of it comes down to leaders. You need guys who can grab hold of a situation. That really helped."

BAD NIGHT: Three Rangers goals Friday inadvertently were scored by the Lightning: off Lashoff's skate, as D Kurtis Foster tried to clear a rebound and off G Antero Niittymaki's arm as he tried to cover a puck. "We're not a team that can recover from soft and fluky goals," Tocchet said.

G Mike Smith was pulled after the first, in which he gave up two softies and was charged with four goals on seven shots, and LW Alex Tanguay and D Andrej Meszaros, easily pushed off the puck by C Olli Jokinen before New York's third goal, were benched. "You've got some guys playing hard and some guys, I don't know," Tocchet said. "My bullets are not to play guys, but I can't play seven, eight, nine, guys. … so you try to mix and match."

NOT DEAD YET: With four games left, the best Tampa Bay (31-35-12) can do is 82 points. That would tie the Bruins (35-30-12) if they lost their final five. That would give each team 35 wins, and with the season series tied 2-2, the East's last playoff spot would be decided by goal differential. The Lightning has allowed 44 fewer goals than it has scored. The Bruins have scored one more than allowed, meaning Boston would get into the playoffs.

Of course, if the Lightning wins each of its last four games 10-0, it has a chance.

FAN EVENT: An open house is from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today at the St. Pete Times Forum, including practice at noon. Former captain Dave Andreychuk and Sun Sports' Bobby "The Chief" Taylor will hold a chalk talk at 11 a.m. Players will sign autographs at about 1:15 p.m.

ODDS AND ENDS: LW Stephane Veilleux, LW Ryan Malone (knee), D Matt Smaby (back spasms), D Victor Hedman (hip flexor), D David Hale (ankle) and D Matt Walker (lower body) were scratched.

Good leaders hold Tampa Bay Lightning AHL affiliate together 04/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 1:40am]

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