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J.T. Wyman savors first NHL goal with Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA — Rookie wing J.T. Wyman isn't one of those flashy players who'll routinely rack up highlight-reel goals.

But what Lightning coach Guy Boucher has known about Wyman since their days with AHL Hamilton is the Dartmouth graduate can be as reliable as a well-wound clock.

"If you ask him something," Boucher said, "he does exactly what you ask him to do."

That's how Wyman became the unlikely star of Thursday's 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Canadiens, picking up his first NHL goal and an assist on Vinny Lecavalier's winner.

It was hard to wipe the smile off the face of Wyman, 25, who had played his sixth NHL game. He posed for pictures with the milestone puck after helping beat his former team.

"It's the main reason why a lot of us love the game, because big things can happen at any moment to any player," Wyman said. "Anybody can be a hero at any time."

Wyman, signed to a one-year deal in July, is getting his opportunity while fellow rookie Brett Connolly is playing for Canada in the world junior championship for two weeks. Recalled from AHL Norfolk after Christmas, Wyman is getting ice time as the team awaits the return of injured center Nate Thompson (lower body).

Though Wyman can't fully replace Thompson, he does provide a physical presence with his 6-foot-2, 199-pound frame, and the kind of relentlessness, grit and defensive awareness Boucher covets in Thompson, whom he calls "textbook."

Wyman's Lightning debut, Dec. 23 in Colorado, was "probably the best game by a callup that we've had in a year and a half," Boucher said. When the Lightning was down to four defensemen in Tuesday's game against the Flyers, Boucher looked to Wyman, who had filled in at the blue line for a few games in Hamilton.

Having played for Boucher before and understanding his expectations helps a lot, Wyman said. And when Boucher gave him more ice time in key moments in Thursday's third period, it boosted his confidence.

"I know I can play out there. I know I have the physical ability and mental capability to play in this league," Wyman said.

With Boucher saying the Lightning was getting "too pretty" in the offensive zone and him screaming for his players to shoot against the Canadiens, Wyman answered the call. His seemingly harmless wrist shot from the right circle in the second period trickled through goalie Carey Price and barely crossed the goal line for a momentum-swinging score that pulled the trailing Lightning within 3-2.

"They drill you at a young age, 'You can't score unless you shoot the puck,' " Wyman said.

It was Wyman's only shot of the game — and third in three Lightning games — but he made the most out of his 7:01 of ice time. In drawing up the play that led to Lecavalier's winning goal midway through the third, Boucher asked Wyman to crash the net after the faceoff. Wyman did that and ended up with an assist.

"I've got to play physical and create some chaos," Wyman said. "I'm just trying to play my role out there."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow the Times' Lightning coverage at lightning.tampabay.com and on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

.TOday

Lightning vs. Hurricanes

When/where: 5; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

Key stats: C Steven Stamkos has seven goals in his past seven games, giving him an NHL-most 23 entering Friday. … G Mathieu Garon has won his past two starts. … At 4:30 p.m. the Lightning will unveil a life-sized bronze statue of team founder Phil Esposito that will sit in front of the west entrance. … The Hurricanes allow an average 3.28 goals per game, tied with Tampa Bay for second-highest in the league, and have the league's second-worst power play (12.8 percent).

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J.T. Wyman savors first NHL goal with Tampa Bay Lightning 12/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2011 10:07pm]

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