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Tampa Bay Lightning players remain optimistic about playoff chances

TAMPA — General manager Steve Yzerman said Saturday that if the Lightning keeps winning he might adjust his strategy heading toward Monday's trade deadline.

He probably wouldn't turn into a buyer, but instead of selling might just let the players he has take a run at the playoffs.

"That's great," left wing Ryan Malone said, "if that's how it is."

"GMs are tricky," Malone added. "It's all a game for them to get the pieces they want. If someone gets offered something they can't resist, he probably will make the move."

There's one way for Tampa Bay to find out: make the most of its four games before the deadline, starting tonight against the red-hot Ducks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

With victories Thursday and Saturday over the Sharks and Capitals, respectively, Tampa Bay, despite being just one point from the bottom of the 15-team Eastern Conference, has forced its way into the fringe of the postseason conversation.

Eleventh in the East, the Lightning is just six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. It is seven points behind the first-place Panthers in the Southeast Division.

"It's definitely in reach," center Nate Thompson said. "It's in our hands. We're right there."

Well, perhaps not right there.

"We're knocking on the door, almost," Malone said. "We're walking up to the door. It's exciting for us to see some results and making up some points. We're in a hole still and have to stay focused on one game at a time."

A Lightning playoff run will be tough not so much because of the points it must make up but because in the conference and division races it must jump three teams, so it would help if those teams wouldn't win as much.

Even so, that the Lightning is in this position at all is admirable. It's not easy to hear on Monday your general manager plans to be a seller at the trade deadline and then play (and win) on consecutive nights in which teammates were traded.

"Guys have said this, but we didn't lose two really good players, we lost two really good people," Thompson said of the deals that sent center Dominic Moore to the Sharks and defenseman Pavel Kubina to the Flyers.

"For us to set it aside and worry about what we have to worry about, what we had to do, is huge — huge character wins for us. If we can just keep that going and worry about just the next game, one game at a time, we're going to be in good shape."

A possible glitch is the upper-body injury to captain Vinny Lecavalier, who is out tonight after leaving Monday's practice early.

Coach Guy Boucher said his "very focused" players would be able to overcome that, too.

"I just think that we've been in survival mode for a long time," Boucher said. "Whatever we have — one more, two more, three more, five more adversities we hadn't seen before — it just falls into the same kind of attitude we've had for a long time that no matter what comes at us we have to take a slap and get up and bounce higher. We've bounced higher lately."

It's tricky, but Yzerman has noticed.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning players remain optimistic about playoff chances 02/20/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 20, 2012 10:15pm]
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