NEWARK, N.J. — Lightning defenseman Brett Clark made a bold prediction about tonight's game with the Devils:
He will, without a doubt, take a puck squarely off his right ankle.
The joint is "like a magnet," said Clark, who for a while has been dealing with a painfully swollen bursa that is larger than a golf ball and causes him to limp slightly when not on the ice.
It's not that great when he plays, either. The compression of the skate boot helps stabilize things, but Clark said, "The movement in the boot, cutting and pivoting, it gets very sore."
Really, it is his own fault.
Second in the league entering Wednesday with 186 blocked shots, Clark constantly puts himself in harm's way.
"You know it's going to hurt," he said. "But you still have to stick your neck out for the team. That's what the whole job is."
Clark, 35, always has been a shot blocker. In 2008-09 with the Avalanche, his 238 blocks were second in the league and set the team record. Last season he led Tampa Bay with 157. This season he is on track for 201.
With the way the league has cracked down on obstruction, blocks are more important than ever, he said: "Because you can't hold, you can't tie up, you can't pin along the boards as much, guys are going to get to the front of the net, so you have to keep the puck away as much as you can."
It is easy to miss Clark's effectiveness. He does not draw attention by sprawling because he generally is so well positioned in the shooting lanes that he can stay upright.
As goaltender Dwayne Roloson said, "When he's there and he's in front of you, that shot's not getting through."
"Those guys are really nuts," coach Guy Boucher said of the best shot blockers. "If you think about the reality of such a hard object being thrown at you at 100 mph with basically no protection, it takes major bravery. We say bravery is close to insanity, so to these guys, I raise my hat."
That brings us back to Clark's battered and bulbous ankle.
In a March 22 victory over the Oilers, it was hit so hard by an Ales Hemsky shot, Clark buckled in pain. With the puck stuck in Tampa Bay's zone, it was perhaps another minute before he got to the bench.
"That's when your (defense) partner helps you out and takes a little bit of that role from you, knowing you can't move," Clark said. "You just hold in front of the net. You just try to get the puck out so you can get off the ice."
But never for long. In two seasons with Tampa Bay, Clark has not missed a game and sees no reason that will change tonight at the Prudential Center.
That said, Clark knows what will happen. "With the initial impact, sometimes it goes numb for a few minutes," he said of the ankle. "You just have to keep pushing through it."
HEALING: Captain Vinny Lecavalier, out 18 games with a fractured right hand, is expected to play against the Devils. Center Nate Thompson, out six games with an upper-body injury, might return as well. In anticipation, right wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie was reassigned to AHL Norfolk.
streaking on: Dustin Tokarski made 32 saves for his 10th straight win and fifth shutout of the season, and Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat scored as Norfolk extended its AHL-record winning streak to 21 games, 2-0 over St. John's.
Lightning at Devils
When/where: 7; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM
Key stats: Lightning C Steven Stamkos has a league-best 55 goals and five in his past three games. … The Devils have the league's No. 1 penalty kill at 89.6 percent. … New Jersey leads the league with 14 short-handed goals and 13 short-handed goals against. … Devils C Adam Henrique entered Wednesday with a rookie-best 32 assists. … New Jersey LW Zach Parise has two goals, five points in three games this season against Tampa Bay. Stamkos has the same against the Devils.