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Kristers Gudlevskis hopes for rare feat

DALLAS — There were so many bodies in front of the net at Friday's practice, it had to be difficult for Kristers Gudelvskis to see the puck.

But the Lightning goaltender somehow made a leg save when the puck squirted free, and after his teammates vacated the area, Gudelvskis allowed himself a small pump of his fist.

"He battles," captain Marty St. Louis said. "He's a big boy."

He's also one step away from history. Because if Gudlevskis, Tampa Bay's backup while Anders Lindback is on a conditioning assignment at AHL Syracuse, gets in an NHL game, it is believed he will be the first goaltender to play in the ECHL, AHL, Olympics and NHL in the same season.

Lindback's conditioning stint could be done Sunday, so if Gudlevskis is going to get in a game this season, it probably has to be quick. And it just so happens the Lightning plays back-to-back games today at Dallas and Sunday at Colorado.

"If I get this game, it would mean everything," Gudlevskis said. "You do everything to get here and get this game."

It has been quite a season for Gudlevskis, 21, who was drafted 124th overall last summer to little fanfare out of HK Riga, the junior team of Dinamo Riga of the KHL.

It took Gudlevskis 11 games to be promoted from ECHL Florida to AHL Syracuse, and his 55 saves for Latvia against Canada in the Olympic quarterfinals got him worldwide recognition and encouragement in the handshake line from St. Louis, who played for Canada.

"I told him great job. I mean, unbelievable," St. Louis said.

Not bad for someone who, when he showed up at the Lightning's summer development camp, had hand-me-down equipment Tampa Bay replaced.

"Always when I get new gear, I think, 'This is going to be the best gear of my career,' " Gudlevskis said.

It is that gear he wore at the Olympics and wears now.

So is it plausible Gudlevskis, with just 33 pro games in North America, gets in an NHL game this weekend? Even coach Jon Cooper said he is intrigued to see what Gudlevskis can do.

But today's game is at 3 p.m., Sunday's is at 8 p.m., and there is no practice Monday. All of which gives No. 1 Ben Bishop plenty of recovery time. The Lightning, on a 2-5-0 streak, also doesn't necessarily have time for experiments.

"Would it be kind of cool for him to have on his resume he played in the East Coast, the American league, Olympics and NHL in one season? Yes," Cooper said. "But you don't play players because of that. They have to earn the right to get in there. In saying that, he's slowly earning his right to get in there.

"The fact he's here," Cooper added, "is telling you we'd have no problem putting him in net."

Until that happens, Gudlevskis, 6 feet 3, 205 pounds, is just happy being in the NHL.

"He reminds me of yourself in your first year," Bishop said. "You come up and you walk in all these buildings and you could be on the ice all day playing in an NHL rink."

Or even a practice rink.

"It's incredible," said Gudlevskis, one of the last players off the ice Friday. "I love being here. It's perfect."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

Kristers Gudlevskis hopes for rare feat 02/28/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 1, 2014 12:14am]
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