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New Tampa Bay Lightning wing Simon Gagne feels pressure to prove worth

CALGARY — Simon Gagne believed the days of being nervous before preseason games were over.

"When you're 30 years old … ," he said, without embellishing.

But there was the Lightning left wing on Wednesday, battling butterflies before his first game with his new team.

Gagne knew he was being watched, which is why his goal and three points in a 4-2 victory over the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks was so important.

"They knew me from when I was playing with the Flyers," Gagne said. "Is it going to be a little bit different if I come here? Am I going to be the same player? I wanted to show them, my teammates, the owners, management, what I can do. They want to see what I'm capable of."

Gagne can carry a team. He did it in last season's playoffs, with nine goals and 12 points in 19 games as Philadelphia got to the Stanley Cup final.

In 10 seasons with the Flyers, Gagne twice scored 40 goals. He had four seasons with at least 30, seven with at least 20, falling short only in seasons in which he was injured.

For the Lightning, Gagne, acquired in July for defenseman Matt Walker, fills out a second legitimate offensive line, something Tampa Bay hasn't had in several years. And his ability to play on a skill level with Vinny Lecavalier is expected to help the captain and linemate snap out of a two-season funk.

He is "a player and a half," coach Guy Boucher said, and "one of the top two-way players in the game."

"He's going to go into those areas you have to to score, or go into a corner to win those battles," said teammate Ryan Malone, who, when with the Penguins, regularly faced Gagne. "He's one of those guys who hounds the puck and makes something out of nothing."

All of which is why Flames assistant general manager and former Lightning GM Jay Feaster said that acquiring Gagne "was bordering on brilliant. If you get anywhere close to the Simon Gagne who played in the playoffs … I think he will light it up."

Gagne must stay healthy, of course, something he has done only once the past three seasons. But he said he has no residue from last season's surgery to fix groin and abdominal problems.

More stressful, he said, has been fitting in with new teammates. But Gagne said he immediately felt welcome, and his defensive sensibility has endeared him to Boucher.

"He's always in the right spot," Boucher said. "He angles his guys well. He's great for stick on the puck. He anticipates well. He's a major, major asset for us."

Gagne said playing defense comes naturally. He said his father, Pierre, preached it when he was his son's coach in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, and Gagne has cultivated that part of his game ever since.

"It's something I take pride in," said Gagne, plus-142 in his career. "It's always fun to score, but I get the same feeling when I make a nice play defensively. And the coach likes it, so that's a plus."

Still, it was the goal Gagne scored against Chicago that was the ice-breaker with teammates.

"It took off a lot of pressure," he said Saturday before facing the Flames at Pengrowth Saddledome and scoring his second goal of the preseason in a 5-4 shootout loss. "You feel more in the gang. I hope it's going to be like that all year."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

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Preseason at Panthers, 7:30 p.m. Friday, BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/radio: None; 1250-AM

New Tampa Bay Lightning wing Simon Gagne feels pressure to prove worth 09/25/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 26, 2010 12:20am]
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