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Tampa Bay Lightning players have stayed united through tough season

In a season of turmoil, the Lightning locker room generally has been an oasis for players.

That's according to Olie Kolzig and Steve Eminger, both of whom were traded at the deadline and said a well-bonded team protected itself from the organizational tumult of roster instability, trade rumors, a fired head coach and financial difficulties.

"It was one of the most interesting years I've been through," said Kolzig, the injured backup goalie shipped to the Maple Leafs. "But as much as went on outside the dressing room, the group inside, we laughed and played it off. It didn't affect us as much as people thought it did."

Eminger, dealt to the Panthers, said Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Jeff Halpern have kept cohesive a locker room that has been more an open house; 47 players have suited up.

"We understood what was going on, and it was always in the back of our minds," Eminger said. "But when the game started and we were in there together, that was the last thing on our minds. It was a good room. We blocked out whatever was happening on the outside."

DIFFERENCE OF OPINION: When Eminger was traded, Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton said the team had negotiated "hard" with him on a contract extension. But Eminger, a potential free agent, said that was not the case.

"We would have liked to have kept him, quite frankly, and negotiated very hard with him," Lawton said at the time. "Ultimately, there certainly was no hometown discount."

"There was an offer, but it was nothing," Eminger said before Saturday's Lightning win. "It wasn't getting too serious. … It wasn't intense. I wasn't in their office in meetings with my agent. There was none of that."

TIME ON HIS SIDE: After averaging 23 minutes, 33 seconds of ice time with the Lightning, and twice playing more than 30 minutes, Eminger is averaging 15:59 with Florida.

He said the decrease is good because he believes he played too much with Tampa Bay to be effective. He also does not have to pace himself as much.

"Playing 16, 17, 18 minutes, you can play physical," Eminger said. "You can do everything you want to do. So, there was getting out of that mode of 30 minutes and going hard every shift."

MIND GAMES: D Noah Welch, whom the Lightning got for Eminger, said he did not go into Saturday with anything to prove to Florida coach Peter DeBoer.

"If you have that attitude, that's a lot of pride in a negative way," he said. "The coaches made their decision when I was here. Whether they believe in me or not, I believe I can play at this level."

Welch played 10:19 in the game, with only one third-period shift. Coach Rick Tocchet called him a work in progress: "He can skate and handle the puck. But his positional play has to improve."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tocchet said that D Matt Lashoff (leg), the key piece acquired from the Bruins in the Mark Recchi trade, is close to playing. … How feeble has the Lightning's defense been at providing offense? Tampa Bay has 16 goals from its blue line, the Panthers 43. … Sun Sports' Inside the Lightning will feature G Mike Smith at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Tampa Bay Lightning players have stayed united through tough season 03/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 1:01pm]
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