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Big road test awaits Lightning

Hey, Tampa Bay Lightning. You've just defeated the Stanley Cup finalist Chicago Blackhawks 7-3. Now what are you going to do?

Go to Disney World? Not.

Try Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Toronto and Buffalo _ in the next eight days.

That's no vacation. It's a five-game swing of four Norris Division foes and the Sabres of the Adams Division.

"Every division game is tough, a real grinder," Lightning defenseman Peter Taglianetti said after practice Thursday at Expo Hall. "And we have to start out with (five) in a row. It's a good test."

"This trip is a big one," Lightning center Brian Bradley agreed. "But the guys prepared well for Chicago (Wednesday night), and now we don't have to worry about coming back 0-6."

But the expansion team can't expect to be underestimated anymore. After a 6-2-1 preseason and the four-goal victory over the Blackhawks, it's going to be hard for the Lightning to sneak up on anybody _ especially Chicago again.

"It's going to be a lot different Sunday, I guarantee it," Chicago center Jeremy Roenick said.

Chicago rookie coach Darryl Sutter said his players, especially the more talented ones, lacked the discipline they needed to win.

"They're the same as puppies," he said. "They don't want to listen to instructions until they get their nose rubbed in (it). Eventually they will listen."

Teams usually shoot for .500 on the road.

"Since we play five games, I'd say we would like to win at least three," Lightning defenseman Joe Reekie said. "To be successful in the league you have to win on the road."

But that's not easy for any team, expansion or not. Only four teams had winning records on the road last season: Detroit (19-13-8), New York Rangers (22-17-1), Washington (20-15-5) and Vancouver (19-16-5).

San Jose, an expansion team last season, mustered only three wins away from the Cow Palace.

Here's a preview of the trip:

Saturday, 8:05 p.m., Minnesota (20-16-4 at the Met Center last season _ fourth-worst home record in the NHL). The Lightning tied the North Stars in its first preseason game 4-4 and defeated them 5-2 in the second preseason game. A key player to watch is 22-year-old center Mike Modano, who led the North Stars in points last season with 77. He's the newest star of the Stars.

Sunday, 8:35 p.m., Chicago (23-9-8 at Chicago Stadium, third-best home record in NHL). The Blackhawks will be out for revenge after falling to the Lightning in both teams' season opener. The Chicago Tribune's headline of the game read: Hawks struck by humiliation, Tampa opens with bang.

Tuesday, 8:35 p.m., St. Louis (25-12-3 at St. Louis Arena, tied for fourth-best home record in NHL). The Lightning split two preseason games with the Blues, who feature Brett Hull (the NHL leader in goals last year with 70).

Thursday, 7:35 p.m., Toronto (21-16-3 at Maple Leaf Gardens). It's the first of nine meetings this season between the two teams. The Maple Leafs are led by goaltender Grant Fuhr.

Friday, 7:35 p.m., Buffalo (22-13-5 at Memorial Auditorium). It's the only time the Lightning visits the Adams Division opponent this season. The Sabres feature veteran Pat LaFontaine, a 46-goal scorer last season who was obtained from the New York Islanders in midseason.

Lightning coach Terry Crisp said this early road trip can be looked at two ways. One is the players become more of a team by having to be with each other virtually around the clock for the eight days.

And the road is a good place to work out kinks away from the home fans.

"If we're going to get kicked in the shins, let's do it on the road," he said.

After the Lightning's unexpected success, he was asked Wednesday after the game if he was making plans for the playoffs.

"Put a dagger right in my heart," Crisp said. "We want to enjoy this victory, but we've got to be realistic. There are going to be some nights we get hammered. Let's see how we do on the road trip."

The road trip

Saturday: at Minnesota, 8:05 p.m.

Sunday: at Chicago, 8:35 p.m.

Tuesday: at St. Louis, 8:35 p.m.

Thursday: at Toronto, 7:35 p.m.

Oct. 16: at Buffalo, 7:35 p.m.