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Solid stretch boosts confidence of Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Mike Smith

Mike Smith never has lacked for confidence, but even the Lightning goaltender admitted his solid three games on last week's road trip were needed.

"It's a big confidence boost," Smith said. "I hadn't played well on the road all year, it seemed like. The last three games have definitely been a step up."

Smith was 0-3-1 with a 5.38 goals-against average and an .826 save percentage before the trip. He was 1-1-1 with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage on it.

His best game: perhaps the 4-3 overtime loss to the Ducks because his fortitude was tested after falling behind 3-0 in the second period.

"He didn't let the fourth one in," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He kept us in the game. That's the mental toughness we're looking for there."

Tocchet said he learned something about Smith after Smith lost his No. 1 status. Instead of pouting, Tocchet said, Smith worked. Instead of bemoaning the loss of playing time to a deserving Antero Niittymaki, Smith, benched for two weeks before the road trip, accepted a two-goalie system.

"I saw another side of Smitty where he has worked his (behind) off even harder in practice," Tocchet said. "He took this and used it as motivation."

"I learned a lot about myself, about being a professional," Smith said. "Those couple of weeks I wasn't playing, the focus in practice was that much more important. I knew I was going to get back in there. I wanted to be the best when I was."

Lundin to Norfolk: After one good game, D Mike Lundin was returned to AHL Norfolk; understandable if Mattias Ohlund (ankle) and Matt Smaby (finger) are preparing to return. But give Lundin credit for playing well Sunday against the Thrashers, his best moment coming when he disrupted Ilya Kovalchuk's semi-breakaway.

The Wright stuff: Rookie LW James Wright has been a solid contributor on a third line with C Jeff Halpern.

"He's a breath of fresh air," Tocchet said. "He does everything you ask. He dogs the puck. He's exactly what this team needs."

Wright has two goals and four points, but more impressive is his plus-1 on a team outscored 55-63. The stat can be deceiving, but it does indicate Wright's defensive responsibility.

He throws in some offense, too. Against the Ducks, he regained a lost puck in the offensive zone and, with a defender on his back, found Paul Szczechura driving the slot. Szczechura couldn't finish, but the play showed Wright's instincts.

"I'm feeling a lot more comfortable," said the 19-year-old straight out of juniors. "I know what my job is, but I never want to get satisfied because that's when your play starts dropping."

A better Meszaros: With the blue line thinned by injuries and Paul Ranger's absence, Andrej Meszaros has gotten more minutes and played better.

The defenseman is plus-3 in his past seven games, minus-7 in his first 14. He hasn't had a point in 13 games, but solidifying his defense was paramount.

"He knows he wasn't playing well," Tocchet said. "(Associate coach) Rick Wilson challenged him with video. We took him out of certain situations, power-play time. He's been challenged, and he's starting to get his game rounded out."

Back on the power play, Meszaros has played at least 22 minutes in six straight games and had 16 shots.

"I'm playing a lot better than I was," he said. "Too bad the points aren't there yet."

Solid stretch boosts confidence of Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Mike Smith 11/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 23, 2009 11:03pm]
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