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Lightning wins exhibition after day of disruptions

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Hockey players are creatures of habit on game days; they skate, they nap, they eat a pregame meal and play.

Even rookie center Steven Stamkos called his afternoon nap a "ritual" and a "tradition."

But tradition was overtaken by circumstance Sunday as the Lightning — which in a quirky, tiring and ultimately successful 12 hours, was in the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia — earned a 4-1 victory over Berlin Eisbaren and learned the real meaning of the term "five or 10 minutes."

"I wouldn't call it inconvenient," Stamkos said. "We knew what to expect, but it's definitely tough when you have a lot of travel and you're getting off a plane and having to get ready and get to the rink and play. It was a little bit of an adjustment."

It was an attitude adjustment for vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton, who had to tolerate the gentleman in charge of getting Tampa Bay's charter plane to the gate at the airport in Prague, Czech Republic, where the team was based the previous two days.

If you know the Seinfeld episode in which the manager of a Chinese restaurant insists Jerry's table will be ready in "Oh, five, 10 minutes," you know what Lawton went through.

At least three times he was given timetables of five, seven or 10 minutes on the plane's arrival. Not even close. At one point, the gentleman ran into the waiting room and threw up his hands as if to say, "What is going on?"

How did Lawton not blow his top? "Believe me," he said, "I fully comprehend what 'five to 10 minutes' means."

The plane finally arrived, 90 minutes after its scheduled 11 a.m. takeoff, and the team landed in Berlin at 2:30 p.m., 90 minutes before the game at the O2 World Arena. The start time was pushed back a half-hour.

So, what's a few minutes? What's the big deal about a morning skate? But for players used to a regimen, it was disconcerting. "It does make you a little anxious because you're not doing the routine you're used to," wing Gary Roberts said.

It showed in the first period. Though Berlin Eisbaren is perhaps only a tick better than an AHL squad, it dominated and led 1-0. The score would have been worse if not for Olaf Kolzig's game-saving goaltending. But by the second period, Tampa Bay had found its rhythm.

Jason Ward scored twice, Roberts had a goal and an assist, Vladimir Mihalik scored his first NHL goal, and Stamkos' pass that set up Roberts' redirect was a tape-to-tape thing of beauty.

"This was a good test," coach Barry Melrose said. "Berlin made us work our butts off, and it's a tribute to them. Fortunately, Ollie gave us a chance to stay in it until we found our legs."

The Lightning bolted from the arena to catch a plane to Slovakia for Tuesday's preseason finale. What else? The plane was delayed, leaving the players in a Berlin terminal for 30 minutes.

"It builds chemistry going through all these weird experiences together," wing Ryan Malone said after landing at 11:30 p.m. in Bratislava.

"We knew stuff like this was going to happen," Melrose said. "We're not going to complain about it. We're going to make it a good experience for everybody."

Five, 10 minutes at a time.

Lightning wins exhibition after day of disruptions 09/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 29, 2008 3:43pm]
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