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With season on the line, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier must meet huge expectations

This is a crucial time for the Lightning. The belief in the front office and among the coaches is there still is hope, though ever so slight, the team can make the playoffs.

If that is indeed the mind-set, it will take a monumental effort to realize. Tampa Bay is 25 points behind Southeast-leading Washington, so forget that. It is 13 points out of the East's final postseason berth, with six teams in the way.

In other words, it is time for a monumental effort from Vinny Lecavalier.

We are still waiting for him to show even last season's form, never mind 2006-07, when he and linemate Marty St. Louis set the league on fire.

Lecavalier leads the team with 16 goals and four winners. But he has just five power-play goals, a part of the game at which the team has faltered all season. His 32 points entering Saturday were tied for 40th in the league and fewer than the assists of Evgeni Malkin (45), Sidney Crosby (35), Marc Savard (35), Joe Thornton (35) and Nicklas Backstrom (33).

And, really, one shootout goal on seven attempts?

Not exactly what Tampa Bay envisioned when it signed Lecavalier, 28, to an 11-year, $85-million contract extension and made him captain.

It is extremely unfair to pick on one player when so much has gone wrong this season. But the expectations for Lecavalier — expectations he created — are huge, and even he admits he has not met them.

Remember the 52 goals and 108 points in 2006-07?

Remember Nov. 14, 2007, when Lecavalier had three goals and five points in a 6-1 win over Carolina? He took over that game, changed it single-handedly. When was the last time we saw something like that out of the Ile Bizard, Quebec, native?

One of the best players in the world? Not this season. Not when coach Rick Tocchet believed he had to publicly reprimand his captain for on-ice body language he thought was detrimental to the psychology of the team.

Lecavalier has battled all season with the effects of offseason shoulder surgery. He says he still has pain, and the joint won't be fully strengthened until summer, when he can concentrate on conditioning.

But when Lecavalier plays with passion, he shows the greatness we remember. He was huge in a 3-1 win over Montreal with the winning goal and an assist. His two goals Thursday against the Capitals happened because he moved his feet and got to the net.

What will he do in the next two weeks with the season on the line?

With season on the line, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier must meet huge expectations 01/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 5, 2009 3:22pm]

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