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Olympic spotlight shines on Lightning goalie prospect

TAMPA — For 20 minutes before the Lightning's practice Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Kristers Gudlevskis worked with goaltenders coach Frantz Jean.

They spent another 20 minutes working after practice as well.

If Gudlevskis' newfound celebrity has gone to his head — his jaw-dropping 55 saves for Latvia in a 2-1 loss to Canada in the Olympic quarterfinals received worldwide praise — it isn't evident.

"It was great," he said of almost pulling off one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. "It was a great experience for me as a goalie in the future. I hope it's going to give me more confidence."

But he also was quick to point out, "It was only one game."

The game put an exclamation point on what has been a dream season for Gudlevskis, 21, who was drafted 124th overall last summer after playing two years for HK Riga, the junior team of Dinamo Riga of Europe's Kontinental Hockey League.

Gudlevskis, 6 feet 3, 205 pounds, needed just 11 games to be promoted from ECHL Florida to AHL Syracuse, and he might travel with the Lightning for Thursday's game at Nashville if Anders Lindback's sprained left ankle has not healed.

Gudlevskis will head back to Syracuse when Lindback is healthy and is expected to play there next season, because for all his accomplishments, his competitiveness and explosive footwork that quickly gets him from point A to B, Gudlevskis is a work in progress.

Puck-handling is probably the weakest part of his game, and he must be more consistent. Though 11-8-2 in 22 games for Syracuse with a 2.69 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, he is 1-3-0 in his past five games with a 3.95 goals-against average and .838 save percentage.

"What we want to do is guard against over-expectations for our fans and for our organization," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "Let's just get him back here and develop at his own pace and play his way out of the American League like he played his way out of the East Coast League."

Against Canada Gudlevskis almost was unbeatable and stopped a Sidney Crosby breakaway to boot. "We wanted to make a miracle," he said of the national team.

His part in that? "I just think, 'One more save, one more save. I need to make one more save and do that all game long,' " he said.

Accolades poured in from teammates, the media, family and friends. And the team's effort was a huge deal in Latvia, where hockey, Gudlevskis said, is "Sport No. 1."

Still, Gudlevskis said the attention he received, was "too much" because "we lost that game. You can't be satisfied about losing."

"That's exactly the type of person he is," Jean said. "He's a guy who's not satisfied easily. He always wants to do better. He takes everything for what it is. To have that mind-set, it tells a lot about his maturity."

So did the extra work on Monday.

"He shows up every day," Jean said. "He wants to become a player and he always brings his best effort in practice and even in the gym."

As for how the game against Canada will help his career, Gudlevskis is ambivalent.

"It's past," he said. "It was one game. It wasn't consistent season-long. I need to continue to play like that every game."

Before and after practice, as well.

Notes: Centers Valtteri Filppula (ankle) and Tyler Johnson (foot) and defenseman Matt Carle (foot) are expected to play Thursday at Nashville. … Olympians Marty St. Louis, 38, and Sami Salo, 39, have the option of not practicing before the game.

Olympic spotlight shines on Lightning goalie prospect 02/25/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:37pm]
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