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Tampa Bay Lightning's Gary Roberts is showing he still can affect games

Gary Roberts, left, is enjoying playing with and helping rookie Steven Stamkos.

Gary Roberts, left, is enjoying playing with and helping rookie Steven Stamkos.

TAMPA — In a season with little to cheer, there's Gary Roberts.

One morning last month, he was the lone Lightning skater on the St. Pete Times Forum ice, digging his skates deep and kicking with the force of a young colt.

At the other end were a couple of kids focused on slapping pucks at an empty net.

They might not understand why Roberts was out there racing so hard from end to end, or what it took for him to fight through injuries the better part of the past two seasons.

One day they too will come to terms with a decision Roberts has almost certainly made — these could be his final days on the job.

Roberts, 42, said in December that this would be his last season.

But a rousing effort such as Sunday's in a 4-3 win against Eastern Conference leading Boston led to speculation Roberts could be moved before the March 4 trade deadline. He can still have an affect on the game, and that would be attractive to a team making a playoff run.

"I've been a battler my whole career," Roberts said. "If this is it for me, I want to finish like I started."

With Tampa Bay (20-28-12) virtually out of the playoffs and facing Edmonton (29-25-5) tonight, Roberts wants to mentor younger players while making the most of what hockey he has left.

Roberts has played in 23 NHL seasons for Calgary, Carolina, Toronto, Florida, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. He was a first-round draft choice of the Flames in 1984, selected 12th overall. He won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989.

There have been whispers of the Hall of Fame.

"It's great to see him playing well," Lightning wing Mark Recchi said. "People can sit and watch him play the game at 42 and see how hard he plays the game."

Roberts is no longer the guy who scored a career-high 53 goals in 1991-92 when he finished with a career-high 90 points. But he still is very much a leader with plenty of experience to offer.

Along with Recchi, he feels obligated to help with the development of rookie center Steven Stamkos.

"Playing with a guy like Stamkos, I hope I have an influence on how he approaches his career," Roberts said. "If I accomplish one thing this year, it's to help a guy like that, who I have so much respect for."

Lately, Roberts has played alongside Stamkos and Vinny Prospal. The trio connected in a 5-3 loss to Chicago, Roberts assisting on a Stamkos goal during the rookie's hat trick.

"Any time you go out and see what he does at his age is pretty special," Stamkos said. " … For me, I'm pretty honored to be playing with him."

Against Boston, Roberts wanted to charge the crowd by picking a fight with defenseman Matt Stuart. Despite the 18-year age difference, Roberts held his own. He was still skating hard in the third period, finishing checks and working hard around the net earning 11:20 of ice time.

"I don't know how many games he's got left, but he plays like the game is for something," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "It's not just another game to him. He truly believes every game you play for something."

Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report. Izzy Gould can be reached at izzygould@gmail.com or (813) 226-3458.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Gary Roberts is showing he still can affect games 02/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 10:08am]

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