TAMPA — When it comes to blocking shots, Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer said it is better not to think about the danger.
Especially when a slap shot zips past your head, or as Brewer put it, "buzzes the tower."
"Sometimes," Brewer said, "you have to turn your brain off and make a play."
Perhaps nothing in hockey takes as much courage as blocking shots. Think about it. Players with plenty of unprotected body parts — like their faces — stepping or sliding in front of a six-ounce projectile going 100 mph.
So, it is worth noting the Lightning entered Monday tied for second in the league with 86 blocks. In its past three games — all victories — it blocked 26, 19 and 23 shots, respectively.
Yes, the team, with 24 goals, has the league's top offense. But blocked shots, coach Guy Boucher said, are "the No. 1 criteria to see people paying the price to win."
"It's one of those things," defenseman Matt Carle said. "As much as it hurts, you feel good."
Brewer and Carle lead the Lightning with 11 blocks each, tied for 16th in the league entering Monday. Defensemen Victor Hedman and Sami Salo have 10.
During Sunday's 5-1 win over the Flyers, 12 players blocked at least one shot, and Tampa Bay's 26 blocks were one more than Philadelphia's shots on goal.
That said, if a player commits to blocking a shot, he must succeed. Otherwise, all he does is screen the goalie.
"That's what we always say, if they're not sure they can make the block, stay out of it, " Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback said. "It's a timing thing for the players, but we don't create a lot of those situations."
It is inevitable players will get hurt blocking shots as the backs of legs, sides of knees, ankles and feet are so lightly padded.
Right wing B.J. Crombeen, though expected to play tonight against the Panthers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, had a walking boot on his left foot Monday because of a bruise sustained blocking a shot.
Ways to avoid injury? Don't slide head first into a slap shot, forward Adam Hall said with a laugh. Position hands with palms closed with the padding on the back of gloves facing the shooter.
"And keep your feet on the ground," Carle said. "The more weight you have on your feet the better. If you pick a foot up (Carle called the move The Flamingo) and get hit, there's no weight on it and the pressure in your boot is off. That's how you break a foot."
Not to say getting hit in, say, the shin pads still won't leave a mark.
"But you're not in this sport because you don't want to get hurt," Hall said. "You're at this level because you're a competitive guy who knows how to win. That's one of the sacrifices guys have to make."
Indeed, during the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup run, the team's 363 blocked shots led the playoffs and were 36 more than the second-place Flames, who played three more games.
Still, the idea of willingly placing one's body in harm's way makes even Boucher shudder.
"It's unbelievable because guys shoot so hard and so quick," he said. "I have all the respect in the world for players who do that."
"And they say goalies are crazy," Lindback said. "I don't know."
ST. LOUIS HONORED: Lightning right wing Marty St. Louis, with 11 points on three goals and eight assists, was the NHL's third star of the week ending Sunday. San Jose's Patrick Marleau, with a league-best nine goals, was first star. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who was 5-0-0, was second.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]