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Smith gives Lightning steady preseason debut

Lightning goaltender Mike Smith during second-period action against the Rangers. Smith made 38 saves for Tampa Bay, which won despite being outshot 40-18, including 11-2 in the third period.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning goaltender Mike Smith during second-period action against the Rangers. Smith made 38 saves for Tampa Bay, which won despite being outshot 40-18, including 11-2 in the third period.

TAMPA — The Lightning got exactly what it wanted out of Mike Smith Tuesday night.

The goaltender, in his first game of the preseason, looked confident and steady while making 38 saves in a 3-2 victory over the Rangers.

Top draft choice Steve Stamkos scored his first NHL goal, a top-shelf laser that associate coach Rick Tocchet called a "major-league shot." Ryan Craig and Marty St. Louis scored, and Tampa Bay (2-1) managed two power-play goals, reversing troubles with the man advantage in two previous games.

But Smith, the No. 1, was the star as New York outshot Tampa Bay 40-18, including 11-2 in the third period.

"I felt pretty good out there," Smith said. "A little tired, but that's to be expected. I haven't played in what seems like forever. I've got some things to work on, but other than that, overall, I felt pretty good."

Smith was especially sharp during a four-minute Rangers power play early in the third period. With Ryan Malone in the box for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct for trying to retaliate against Dane Byers, who ran into Stamkos, Smith made a glove save on Markus Naslund's turnaround wrist shot from the slot 5:49 into the period to preserve a two-goal lead.

"He was tremendous," Tocchet said of Smith. "He was solid on his feet and played really well."

FIRST TIME'S A CHARM: Stamkos was as relieved as happy to score an NHL goal, but said he had no intention of keeping the puck.

"Not that one," he said. "The regular season is the one that counts."

Still, he added, "You know, it's good to get that monkey off your back. Although it doesn't count for anything, it helps you get confidence going just to know you can score goals at this level."

"He's an immense talent," coach Barry Melrose said. "He's as fast as anybody on the ice. He's a great kid. He's a sponge. Down the road we're going to say we're the luckiest organization in the world to finish last in 2008 because this kid is going to be special."

CUTS: The roster was reduced to 32 with six cuts: C Wyatt Smith, LW Radek Smolenak, D Ty Wishart, C Paul Szczechura and G Riku Helenius were sent to training camp at AHL Norfolk. C Dana Tyrell was returned to Prince George of the junior Western Hockey League.

FIGHTING FOR JOBS: Melrose used the hard edge brought by C Zenon Konopka (three fights Monday) to put others on notice.

"Hopefully, Konopka has woke up some of these big centers of ours," Melrose said. "They have to realize they're going to have to change the way they play if they're going to make the team. … They have to be hard to play against. If they're not, we have guys who will be."

Melrose was not specific, but if you accept he was not talking about Vinny Lecavalier, Stamkos or Jussi Jokinen, all of whom have been praised, that leaves Craig and Chris Gratton.

Craig played 15:48 Tuesday and was a constant on the penalty kill. Gratton had three hits and won 9 of 14 faceoffs.

PAIN IN THE NECK: D Janne Niskala said he had minor soreness from being checked from behind, headfirst into the boards Monday by Pittsburgh's Ruslan Fedotenko. Though the former Lightning received a five-minute major penalty, Niskala, who played Tuesday, said he was as much to blame because he did not prepare for the hit.

"It was kind of my fault, too," he said. "I stopped skating."

ODDS AND ENDS: W Evgeny Artyukhin replaced late scratch Jason Ward and made the coaches look brilliant when he blew past Rangers D Wade Redden to get a shot. Craig scored on the rebound. … The Lightning is 2-for-14 on the power play. … Asked if he used a calculator to figure how many combined regular-season games the line of Gary Roberts (1,194), Gratton (1,068) and Mark Recchi (1,410) has played, Melrose said, "You'd have to use an abacus because calculators weren't around when they started." It's 3,672.

Around the league

Blues D Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, tore two ligaments in his right knee during a recent golf outing and is expected to miss the season.

"In our business you get a few curveballs," team president John Davidson said before St. Louis played Dallas in a preseason game. "This is a pretty good curveball."

BLUE JACKETS: G Steve Mason will miss four to six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Smith gives Lightning steady preseason debut 09/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 7:35am]

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