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Tampa Bay Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet says team can still make playoffs

TAMPA — Coach Rick Tocchet insisted the Lightning, with 56 games remaining, still can make a run at the Southeast lead.

"It's a ton of games left," he said before the Lightning lost to the Sabres on Saturday and fell 13 points behind the division-leading Capitals. "We can't keep saying that and dropping games, but there's a lot of time left. If we think about January and February and we have to score goals, you defeat yourself. If we do short-term goals, in the long run, it's going to help our team."

How to break a 2-9-5 funk? Change a mind-set, Tocchet said: "We have the mentality, 'What bad is going to happen?' Is it going to be a bad call? Is it going to be a bad goal? If we have that mentality, you're on your heels. I want our players to be on their toes, go, go. Don't worry about things you can't control. You can control your game."

Despite a 1-5-4 record under Tocchet, general manager Brian Lawton said, "I'm very pleased with the amount of effort the team is giving on a nightly basis. … I'm very comfortable the coaches are doing a good job."

He agreed there is time to turn things around.

"What Rick is telling you is he wears his heart on his sleeve, and that's what he believes, and the players can hear that and feel that," Lawton said.

KOLZIG ON BOARD: Tocchet said he will lean on G Mike Smith even more. It is possible Smith, who has played 20 of 26 games, will start throughout a four-game, seven-day road trip.

Olaf Kolzig, 38, who signed a one-year deal after 16 seasons with the Capitals, said he gets it.

"Smitty has taken the ball and run with it. He's been exceptional," Kolzig said. "I'd hate to see where we'd be if he hadn't played the way he has."

Kolzig, 1-4-1 with a 4.11 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage, said he will be as supportive as he can. As for his future, he said he wants to stick with the Lightning.

"I have come to grips with my role," Kolzig said. "My family enjoys it here, and if I do go somewhere else, my family wouldn't be coming with me, and to me that's not an option. Come the trade deadline, we'll see, but right now, I have no desire to go anyplace else."

HEARING AVERY: D Marek Malik was a teammate of Sean Avery with the Rangers and said he has "no problem" with the now-Stars' problem child, suspended six games by the league for vulgar remarks about former girlfriends, specifically actor Elisha Cuthbert.

"That's his personality," Malik said. "He likes to be in the spotlight and on the edge. I don't have a problem with him at all."

Malik said Avery's description of Cuthbert "was not a good line to say" in front of reporters.

"I'm old-school," he said. "I like to keep that stuff in the locker room. But that's him. To me, he was an honest player. Anything you wanted to discuss was right up front."

ODDS AND ENDS: Paul Ranger's goal was only the fourth by a Tampa Bay defenseman and first since Nov. 18. … RW Marty St. Louis was plus-3. … Tocchet said C Chris Gratton has an ankle injury, not a knee as was believed, and LW Matt Pettinger (knee) could be ready next week. … W Adam Hall, D Mike Lundin, LW Gary Roberts (groin) and LW David Koci (hand) were scratched.

Tampa Bay Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet says team can still make playoffs 12/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008 11:22am]
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