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Tampa Bay Lightning defensemen must compete for ice time

CHICAGO — Call it a late-season tryout.

With the Lightning, perhaps, getting D Randy Jones (ankle) back by the end of the week or the playoffs, Tampa Bay will have nine blue-liners on the roster. That means the regular season's final three games will be an audition for playing time.

"Absolutely, it's important to make an impression and play well this time of year," D Matt Smaby said. "At the same time, you're not going to show the coaches anything you haven't showed them so far. So I wouldn't say there is added pressure, but there definitely is pressure to play at a high level."

That is especially true for Smaby and Marc-Andre Ber­geron. Smaby has played only 31 games this season. Bergeron was a healthy scratch in two straight games entering Sunday.

Both played against the Blackhawks as Eric Brewer sat with what coach Guy Boucher described as a "very, very minor" lower-body injury sustained Saturday against the Wild.

Bergeron is in the most interesting and, perhaps, vulnerable position. Signed in January as a power-play specialist, he has one assist in his previous 13 games.

And there is this:

"I will respect the fact that some guys have been battling with us since Day 1," Boucher said, speaking generally. "So if we're going with six (defensemen in the lineup), it's tough. It's not a threat. It's a good problem to have. It means you have depth to play with."

Bottom line, he said, "I'm looking for consistency."

Bergeron is looking for a chance.

"At the same time, they probably already have their plan," he said. "I know what I can do. I've proved that over the years. It's a matter of doing what I do and playing a solid game, and they'll make the decisions they have to make."

BREWER SITS: Brewer could have played, Boucher said, but added, "We don't want to take a chance. We don't want to push it." Brewer is averaging 21:24 of ice time in 20 games since being acquired from the Blues.

TOKARSKI LUCKY: A scary scene Saturday as Dustin Tokarski, one of the Lightning's top goaltending prospects, was cut under his chin along the jaw line in the second period during AHL Norfolk's 5-4 loss to Hershey.

Tokarski needed 27 stitches to close the wound opened by the skate blade of fallen Hershey RW Andrew Gordon.

The good news: Lightning head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan called the wide but not deep gash "superficial," and the Admirals said Tokarski is with the team on its regular season-ending five-game road trip and could play later in the week.

He was "very lucky," Lightning goaltenders coach Frantz Jean said.

Despite also being without G Cedrick Desjardins (shoulder), Norfolk did not have to make a personnel move as Jaroslav Janus already was up from ECHL and Pat Nagle is there on an amateur tryout contract.

ODDS AND ENDS: As expected, W Ryan Malone, back two games after a groin injury, sat out as a precaution. … Jones missed his 13th straight game.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Lightning defensemen must compete for ice time 04/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 4, 2011 5:36pm]
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