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Postseason is reason Tampa Bay Lightning brought in Simon Gagne

Simon Gagne, facing the Penguins in Game 2, overcame a pinched nerve and had a strong finish to the regular season. “He’s one of those guys who had to step it up, and he did,’’ coach Guy Boucher says.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Simon Gagne, facing the Penguins in Game 2, overcame a pinched nerve and had a strong finish to the regular season. “He’s one of those guys who had to step it up, and he did,’’ coach Guy Boucher says.

BRANDON

His performance this season was disappointing, and yet no one is complaining. His numbers were insufficient, and yet nobody is counting.

It is true Simon Gagne's debut season in Tampa Bay could have included a bit more razzle and a dash of dazzle, but it is still too soon to close the book.

For the way we remember Gagne in Tampa Bay will have more to do with a handful of playoff games in April than the six months of regular-season games that came first.

Forget the $5.25 million contract that is among the highest on the team. And forget the draft pick and the defenseman it cost to bring Gagne to Tampa Bay.

All will be forgiven with the right goal at the right moment.

"What people remember is how you finish the season, and how you do in the playoffs," Gagne said. "That's what it comes down to. Everybody wants the player who can do the job at this time of the season, not at the start of the season. That's the way I see it.

"That's the way I've always looked at my career."

So is this why the Lightning brought Gagne here?

"I think so," he said. "Yeah, I would think so."

It's not that the regular season was insignificant or that Gagne's experience and skill wasn't valued from October to February, but a large part of his appeal was his postseason history with the Flyers.

Gagne, 31, has more playoff goals in his career than Marty St. Louis. He has more than Vinny Lecavalier. Of all the players still on the ice in the NHL, only a dozen or so have scored more than Gagne's 32 career playoff goals.

So while it may have been unrealistic to anticipate anything close to the 40-goal seasons he had in his mid 20s in Philadelphia, there has been a seasonlong expectation that Gagne would show up when it mattered most.

And, to some degree, it has happened that way. Gagne was invisible for most of the first half of the season, although much of that was due to a pinched nerve in his neck that kept him out of the lineup for a month and bothered him even longer.

Few people would speak fondly of a former All-Star who finished a season with 17 goals. And it would be hard to find anyone to argue in favor of a minus-12 that is tied for worst on the roster.

Still, as Steven Stamkos slowed down and Ryan Malone and Steve Downie went out with injuries, Gagne's contributions increased dramatically. His 14 goals in the season's second half were tied for second on the team, trailing only Lecavalier's 18.

And now the playoffs give him a chance to start anew. Gagne already has made an impact with three assists in Tampa Bay's Game 2 victory.

"Yes, I think (the postseason) is how he'll be remembered in Tampa," said Lightning coach Guy Boucher. "In Philly they've seen him at his best. They know who he is.

"In Tampa, obviously he's been pushing hard this last portion of the year. That's the Simon Gagne I know. Obviously, that's how Steve (Yzerman) knows him. That's why he's here. So he's not surprising me now. We're just happy that's it's finally come about to help us at the right time. He's one of those guys who had to step it up, and he did."

Gagne's legacy in Tampa Bay will be tied almost entirely to the coming weeks for it seems unlikely he will be back next season.

When dealing with its unrestricted free agents this summer, the Lightning will probably reserve most of its cash for defenseman Eric Brewer and goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

There is also the issue of coming to terms on a long-term deal with Stamkos and, in another year, Victor Hedman.

That may not make Gagne a long shot for an offer, but he is not going to be a priority either. He has expressed interest in remaining in Tampa Bay, but the Lightning will probably not offer anything close to what he might get on the open market.

Which means the coming weeks could ultimately define the relationship between a player and a fan base. Maybe, at one time, hope was higher for Gagne. And maybe, at one point, the ending seemed destined for despair.

But, today, there is still time to write a new ending. Today, Gagne has a chance to be the player Lightning fans were expecting all those months ago.

"In the playoffs, you're ready to pay more of the price. You're ready to give everything," Gagne said. "The regular season, it's 82 games, it lasts a long time. It's really hard to give everything you have for 82 games.

"In the playoffs, if you think about it, you need to win 16 games to get to the appropriate end. You've got two months. You have to be willing to pay whatever the price is to get through those two months."

Postseason is reason Tampa Bay Lightning brought in Simon Gagne 04/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 18, 2011 12:06am]
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