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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman praises coaches' handling of team's recent struggles

“I know how hard these coaches work,” Steve Yzerman says of, from left, Dan Lacroix, Guy Boucher and Wayne Fleming.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

“I know how hard these coaches work,” Steve Yzerman says of, from left, Dan Lacroix, Guy Boucher and Wayne Fleming.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Lightning coach Guy Boucher got a solid thumbs-up from GM Steve Yzerman for how he has handled the team's recent skid.

"I'm pleased with the way the coaches have handled it," Yzerman said Saturday between periods of Tampa Bay's 4-2 victory over the Hurricanes at the RBC Center.

"I know how hard these coaches work, how much time they put into everything. Our players have stuck together and are playing hard every game. … We've done a pretty good job, despite our record, of not falling apart. We're working our way through this."

Funny how one win can change the emotional lay of the land. Tampa Bay, a dismal 3-6-4 in its past 13 games, needs only four points (on its own or with Carolina losses) to clinch a playoff spot for the first time in four years.

Worry in the locker room morphed into a party Saturday as players blasted celebratory music. Yzerman, though, personifies emotional calm.

He said he and Boucher never altered their pregame and postgame meetings in which they discuss the power play, penalty kill and line combinations. But Yzerman also reminded his first-year coach that bad times are as much a part of the team-building process as the good.

"To a point, it's good that you've got to face some adversity that you have to battle through as a team," Yzerman said. "You just stick with it and fight your way through it. It's a challenge to be mentally strong and get through it and survive it. I think you're a better team for it."

BIG SAVE: Saturday's outcome might have been different if not for a smart play early in the third period by D Mike Lundin, who preserved a 2-2 tie by picking off Erik Cole's pass to Eric Staal at the left post of Tampa Bay's net.

Had the pass been completed, Staal would have had an open net at which to shoot.

"I knew he was over there," said Lundin, who was positioned between Cole and Staal. "I was just waiting for that pass, and he put it right on my stick. I didn't have to do much."

MILESTONE: Blipped over in Friday's home loss to the Hurricanes was the 20th goal by C Vinny Lecavalier, who reached the mark for the 11th straight season.

Though the total is less than generally expected from the captain, it is notable in a season that has included knee and hand surgeries, and the reworking of his game to make him a more complete player.

"I've said it before, it all comes with that confidence," said Lecavalier, who has 20 goals and 46 points in 58 games but seven goals and 16 points in his past 15. "Things have been rolling pretty good. I want to keep it going."

REJUVENATED: With six goals and 10 points in six games, LW Simon Gagne, who had two goals Saturday, is in his best stretch of the season.

"He's making it happen not because of his skill but because he's charging through, and that's what he's known for," Boucher said. "It's been a tough year for him, and for him to come up big, I'm pretty happy about that."

REJUVENATED II: What was the best part of G Mike Smith's 33-save win Saturday?

"I liked the way he deflected rebounds to the corners, so he avoided rebounds in the slot," Boucher said. "He's a fighter, and he fought, so it's good for him and good for the team."

Smith, largely because of injury and a demotion to AHL Norfolk, had not won in the NHL since Dec. 18. He called the victory a huge confidence boost.

ODDS AND ENDS: Lecavalier flawlessly on Sunday said, "Drivers, start your engines" at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. … C Blair Jones was reassigned to AHL Norfolk.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman praises coaches' handling of team's recent struggles 03/27/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 27, 2011 9:41pm]
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