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Tampa Bay Lightning says it faces big midseason game Monday vs. New York Islanders

Ryan Malone (12) goes to the net in Friday’s win vs. the Blues, a tactic the Lightning hasn’t used consistently to try to score.

Associated Press

Ryan Malone (12) goes to the net in Friday’s win vs. the Blues, a tactic the Lightning hasn’t used consistently to try to score.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Lightning players said what you would expect to describe tonight's game with the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

"It's huge," defenseman Mattias Ohlund said.

"Big," captain Vinny Lecavalier added.

But it was coach Rick Tocchet who really captured the flavor. "It is," he said, "a dig-deep game."

Check out the story lines:

• A victory would give Tampa Bay two straight to wrap up a six-game road trip that began 0-3-1. If that happens, the longest trip of the season, which began with so much disappointment, won't seem nearly as bad.

• It would set up a five-game home stand. Considering the Lightning is 7-4-4 at the St. Pete Times Forum and just four points out of the playoffs, it has a chance to make a move.

• Perhaps most important, a victory would help the mental well-being of a team that, with Friday's 6-3 victory over the Blues, ended a six-game losing streak, part of a broader downturn in which it won one of 11.

"Just the feeling of coming back to the dressing room and everybody being happy and smiling, it felt good," Lecavalier said. "You go to bed at night and feel good about what we've done. We want to get that feeling back."

How to do that is no mystery. Tampa Bay needs only to look at the template it used against St. Louis.

Players went to the net, where, surprise, they converted rebounds and had open shots that resulted in a season-best six goals, one more than the team had in four previous games combined.

They scored timely goals; two from Jeff Halpern answered third-period tallies from the Blues. They skated with a purpose, tracked back on defense and got good goaltending.

There were still warts, including defensive coverage issues that have to be addressed. But scoring goals makes that manageable.

"The message is to play for 60 minutes," Ohlund said. "There are still some things we need to improve on, but the most important thing is, we can't have 10 or 15 minutes in a game in which we totally lose our patience, like we have in previous games. If we (don't have) that, I like our chances."

That said, the past two days have not been convenient.

Because of the blizzard in the northeast, Saturday's flight from St. Louis was diverted to Newburgh, N.Y., about 85 miles north of Long Island. A 21/2-hour bus ride followed.

Sunday, the team worked out at the Islanders' practice rink in Syosset because union workers at the Coliseum, next to the hotel, had a scheduled day off, said Ryan Belec, the Lightning's director of team services.

Players dressed at the Coliseum, bused to the practice site and returned in sweat-soaked gear to shower and change.

All of which brings us back to Tocchet and tonight's game.

"You hate to use the words do or die, but there are games that, as a player, you really look to dig deep," he said. "This one, coming to Christmastime, you're coming off a nice win in St. Louis, so you're looking for your team to dig deep on these games.

"So, it's a big game, yeah. It's a dig-deep game."

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

Tampa Bay Lightning says it faces big midseason game Monday vs. New York Islanders 12/20/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 20, 2009 11:47pm]
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