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Wanted: Last year's Bradley

Philadelphia didn't need its top gun. Eric Lindros was out with a twitchy back, but the Flyers were in. In for a 3-1 Sunday night flattening of Tampa Bay, and probably in for the NHL playoffs, which for the Lightning remains a goal for another season.

Speaking of goals, Tampa Bay is still scoring too few. Flyers goalie Dominic Roussel smothered the Lightning. Gun control isn't always difficult for Bolts opponents.

There's no Lindros on coach Terry Crisp's roster, so the ThunderDomers count most heavily on Brian Bradley, who put 42 pucks into nets a season ago.

Trouble is, Tampa Bay hasn't been blessed with its No.

19 of last season. Despite punching home the Lightning's sole goal against the Flyers, Bradley has been more of a flickering candle than the blowtorch Tampa Bay craves.

"Brads put a lot of pressure on himself," Crisp said. "In training camp, he told me, "I want to be a leader.' He tries hard. He wants badly to win. Bradley and Petr Klima are still our best scoring threats. But, yes, we need a lot more goals."

Until last season, Bradley was just another undistinguishable baritone in the NHL chorus. For a half-dozen years, he hummed along anonymously with the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Never scoring more than 19 goals in a season. Never becoming famous. Never getting wealthy.

Then, at 28, life changed.

Bradley bounced south last season, to his fourth NHL employer, expansion babe Tampa Bay. Suddenly, the rank-and-file pro began striking goals.

Never a headliner in Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario, Bradley exploded into hot stuff with 42 goals in an unlikely hockey province called Florida. He became a big fish on a small frozen pond. First to wear Lightning black in an NHL All-Star Game.

Rewards were abundant.

Tampa Bay newspapers and TV screens were loaded with Bradley's name and face. Lightning management would financially applaud, more than doubling Brian's salary to $700,000. Despite a slow start this season, No. 19 enjoyed some performance residuals from 1992-93. He repeated as an All-Star.

But something wasn't right.

Bradley has been a mystery, even a phantom at times, since his latest All-Star game in January. He has scored just 20 goals this season. With 16 games remaining, Bradley is headed for a 40 percent drop-off or worse from his 42 red-light licks of a year ago.

Before Sunday night's score, No. 19 hadn't found glory for five games. Bradley has just four goals in his past 20 games. Even for hockey, that's cold.

Lucky for Tampa Bay, continuing to operate without the injured Klima, the Lightning's new scoring leader, recent productive performances by Denis Savard, Danton Cole, Rob DiMaio and a resurgent Gerard Gallant have kept Crispy's critters afloat.

But Bradley's best is badly needed. Tampa Bay is a gritty, little defensive corps but the Lightning is desperate for more goal-scoring fire. Desperate for the Bradley who rose to local hero status last season, and who now cashes a hero's paychecks. Brian's bat got so frigid that Crisp benched the franchise's only all-star two weeks ago in New Jersey.

What's up with No. 19?

Bradley has struggled with injuries, but it's more than that. He has appeared uneasy with the burdens that go with NFL fame, fortune and expectations.

Goes with the territory, Brian.

To people who are around the Lightning every day, the 29-year-old center can appear too often to alibi with repetitive references to his physical ailments, the team's struggling offensive system, NHL travel discomforts and even the ThunderDome's ice.

It's a waste of voice.

Maybe No. 19 should cue up videotapes from last season. Checking the hot streaks of all-star Brian Bradley. Sure, it gets tougher when you're no longer a surprise to enemy teams. When Bradley scores 42 goals and moves uptown to the $700,000 neighborhood, his hockey opposition automatically will become more dedicated to keeping track of Brian's whereabouts on the rink. They will hit him more often, and harder.

Comes with the territory.

When can we expect No. 19 to gloriously respond?

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