Lightning makes over image with NHL-best 10 fights

TAMPA — The fight on Saturday between Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas and Boston's Jarome Iginla occurred with 5:36 left in a 5-0 Bruins victory.

But the way they were under each other's skin the entire game, it could have happened any time, Gudas said.

But that did not change the rookie's bottom line: "I don't like to be pushed around."

That theme has been ongoing since training camp for the Lightning, which is tied with the Sabres with a league-most 10 fights. Gudas is tied for second with three, hockeyfights.com said.

This isn't goon stuff, though. It is the application of coach Jon Cooper's belief that intimidation still is part of the game, fighting polices the game and sticking up for teammates creates bonds that are difficult to break.

"It's what we're trying to build here," Gudas said. "We don't like to be pushed around, and we don't like when some guys think they can lay out our top guys and not pay for it."

"But I don't want to misconstrue fighting as being hard to play against," Cooper said. "Have we gotten into our share of battles and fights this year? Yes, we have. But I don't think that's been the identity of the team. We've been in some tight games and had to grind them out till the end. They've been close. There's been a lot of hard hitting. That's tough to play against."

And fights or not, that is what Cooper expects to see against the Blackhawks tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum as the Lightning tries to forget the embarrassing loss to the Bruins.

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What makes the fighting question so fascinating with Tampa Bay is the position of general manager Steve Yzerman, who believes it is contradictory of the league to penalize checks to the head in an attempt to reduce injuries while allowing fights.

Yzerman has even said perhaps it is time for players who fight to be thrown out of games.

How does that square with Cooper's philosophy, which he has preached since his days at AHL Norfolk and Syracuse?

"I just want to win games," Yzerman said. "I don't tell the coach how to coach the team. We're not going to tell players to fight or don't fight. I just want them to play good hockey."

"If it was taken out of the game, I guess you'd have to adapt," Cooper said of fighting. "But it's part of the game, and I think it's a big part just in the fact that fighting kind of polices the sport a little bit. It keeps everybody honest."

Ryan Malone knows how that goes. The left wing on Oct. 8 went after Buffalo's Mike Weber, who Malone said, "took a run at Marty (St. Louis) with his knee."

"I think he actually missed Marty," Malone said. "But it was kind of unnecessary. If guys are going to run our best players, we have to respond and show that's unacceptable. It's not like everyone is out there looking for fights, but we want to make sure everybody knows that we're going to stick up for each other."

Gudas went after Marcus Foligno in the same game after Tampa Bay's Valtteri Filppula avoided an open-ice check that might have caught his head if not for a last-second duck.

"That was nice," Filppula said. "(Gudas) did a good job."

"It's expected in this league," St. Louis said. "You have to stick together and protect one another. We have a close bunch in here. We're always going to be there for one another."

Sometimes, though, tempers just flare, as happened with Gudas and Iginla, whose bout Saturday was a rematch of their opening-night slugfest.

"I have zero problem with that," Cooper said. "That's two tough guys getting in each other's kitchen trying to stick up for their team and themselves."

"That's a big part of our makeup," Cooper added, "and will continue to be in the future."

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

Lightning makes over image with NHL-best 10 fights 10/23/13 [Last modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 12:12am]

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