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Talking leads to no deal, yet

The telephone in Phil Esposito's office started ringing at 10:30 Monday morning. It probably won't stop ringing until 3 p.m. today, when the NHL trading deadline passes.

"Boy, my ears are sore," Esposito said Monday afternoon.

For most of Monday, the Lightning general manager sat behind closed doors with a phone to his ear. Surrounding him was the team's brain trust: director of scouting and player development Tony Esposito, coach Terry Crisp and head scout Don Murdoch. Every few hours, team president Steve Oto entered for an update.

And the updates Oto heard are the same as this morning's update: The Lightning continues to talk but has yet to trade. Esposito hinted the team will be active before this afternoon's deadline but that the deals may beat it by mere seconds.

"It's tough right now because so many teams are still alive (for a playoff berth)," Esposito said. "Only Boston, really, gave up hope and started trading older guys. Everyone else, though, is deciding what to do, whether to stay in the race or trade some of their older players."

Which is the position the Lightning is in _ three points out of the final playoff spot with 13 games remaining _ as it heads on a three-game road trip to western Canada.

"We've considered everything, all the scenarios," Crisp said. "Do we trade veterans for prospects and look to the future? Or do we trade prospects for veterans and look to do some damage now? Mr. Oto and the owners stated their goal, and that is to make the playoffs now. They want us to go for it.

"But you have to take your time and really consider what is best for the organization. These are tough decisions."

One decision that may have been made is to move a goaltender. Goalie Daren Puppa said his mending back was "a little tired, a little sore" after Sunday's stint with minor-league affiliate Adirondack, but his return seems imminent.

And as Esposito has said he does not want three goalies on the roster, he probably is shopping Corey Schwab and Rick Tabaracci. In return, the Lightning continues to look for help on defense.

"I think it will all break late (this) afternoon around the whole league," Esposito said. "It's so much tougher to do deals now than it used to be. That's because of the contracts and you have to go through the league. And then teams call you and you think you might have a deal. Then they hang up and see if they can get a better deal somewhere else. And you go round and round.

"But that's the game. There might be a deal done at 3 p.m. and because of all the stuff you've got to go through with the league, nothing will be announced until 8 o'clock. So we'll see. All I can say is we're talking and working."

PLAYOFF TICKETS: If the Lightning remains in post-season contention, tickets for the first two home playoff games will go on sale at 10 a.m. April 12 at the Ice Palace box office and through Ticketmaster. Prices will range from $22.75 to $76.75.

Invoices were mailed to season ticket-holders during the weekend. Season ticket-holders must buy six-game packages, for the first two rounds, by April 5; they also will be allowed to buy additional tickets before the public sale.