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Puppa appears ready to return

Daren Puppa seems ready to make his NHL return, Lightning hockey development/scouting director Tony Esposito said after watching the recuperating goalie play a minor-league game Sunday night.

"He wasn't tested a lot, but he felt confident in the net and moved well," Esposito, a Hall of Fame goalie, said of Puppa, who had surgery earlier this season to repair a herniated disc. "To me, he didn't look any different from now to last year."

A Vezina Trophy finalist last season, Puppa stopped 19 of 22 shots as Adirondack, the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, beat Carolina 4-3 in overtime at Greensboro, N.C.

Afterward he reported no pain: "He told me it felt "pretty good,'

" Esposito said, "and that's pretty heavy talk for Daren."

Esposito said the performance could clear the way for the Lightning to use Puppa again and even consider dealing one of its other two goalies, Rick Tabaracci or Corey Schwab, before Tuesday's trading deadline.

"We're going to talk about it today," Esposito said. "You have to listen to every opportunity to make your team better that comes along."

Esposito said there is more interest in Tabaracci, the starter against Toronto. Montreal and Dallas are believed to be among the suitors.

BANNISTER UPDATE: Results of an MRI exam Sunday morning on Drew Bannister's right shoulder were negative, but the defenseman did not play because of what is being called a bad bruise.

Bannister thought he had dislocated the shoulder after colliding with Vancouver wing Markus Naslund and crashing into the boards early in the third period of the Lightning's 5-2 loss to the Canucks on Saturday.

"I'm a little worried about the feeling in my arm," said Bannister, who experienced numbness in most of his right arm and hand Sunday morning. "It should get back to normal in about 48 hours. If it doesn't by then, then I'll have to really start worrying."

MISCELLANY: With Bannister out and Igor Ulanov a healthy scratch, veteran defenseman Jay Wells played for the first time since Feb. 5. Wells missed 17 games with a sprained knee and was activated off injured reserve Sunday. Also back for Tampa Bay was wing Alex Selivanov, who missed eight games after arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus flap. With Selivanov back and Patrick Poulin ready to travel, the Lightning returned wing Brent Peterson to Adirondack. Tampa Bay also assigned rookie forward Jeff Toms to Adirondack, but intends to recall him immediately. Lightning GM Phil Esposito said the move would make Toms eligible for the AHL playoffs should the Lightning not make the post-season. Toms will rejoin the team in Edmonton on Tuesday.

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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