TAMPA — The red bruise on Pavel Kubina's right knee didn't look like much, but the Lightning defenseman rubbed it anyway.
"Hurts like a b - - - -," he said.
Not that Kubina minded given how he was nicked: sliding to block Daniel Sedin's shot with three seconds left in overtime Tuesday to help send the game with the Canucks to a shootout.
That Tampa Bay lost the shootout was beside the point. "A huge block," goaltender Dwayne Roloson said. "It just goes to show his character. He's willing to do whatever it takes to win hockey games."
Kubina, 34, has gotten a lot of such praise lately.
In his past 10 games, the big Czech has two goals and five points, doubling his goals and equalling his points from his previous 31. His 24:53 average of ice time is up more than seven minutes, and he is plus-6 with 31 blocked shots.
The timing could not have been better. Defenseman Victor Hedman went out with a concussion Dec. 27. Coach Guy Boucher asked Kubina, 6 feet 4, 258 pounds, to pick up the slack.
"He works extremely hard," Boucher said. "He has incredible poise with the puck on breakouts. He's got a big body, and he's using it to protect the puck. It's helping us a lot."
"I built my confidence the last couple of weeks," Kubina said. "I got comfortable with my game and playing against the other team's top lines."
This hasn't been the easiest season for Kubina, who said he has struggled at times to keep up in a game that has gotten exponentially faster during his 14-season career.
Playing more has helped because it keeps him in the flow of the game. But just knowing he will play more is as important. It allows Kubina, a member of Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup team, to be proactive on the ice rather than just reactive.
"When you play less, you just don't want to make a mistake," he said. "Lately I've got a lot of opportunity on the power play and penalty killing, five-on-five, the last minutes in a game. It builds my confidence."
So has playing with Eric Brewer on the team's top defensive pairing, which likely will face Eric Staal's line when the Lightning plays the Hurricanes tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Kubina said Brewer is "smart with the puck." Brewer praised Kubina for being "a really good puck-handler" with "a good sense of the ice." Both also are vocal on the bench and ice.
"He likes to know where we're at on a shift," Brewer said. "He wants to make changes if we need positioning corrections."
There wasn't much to talk about when it came to challenging Sedin's shot Tuesday on a four-on-three power play. Kubina and fellow defenseman Brett Clark sprawled in front of the puck.
The wrist shot from the slot hit both players and stopped when it slammed into Kubina's knee.
"We were just trying to block the shot," Kubina said. "That's what you have to do. You have to sacrifice for wins."
Even if it hurts like a ... .