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Defense getting crowded

When Craig Wolanin was traded to Toronto and Jay Wells went down with a knee injury earlier this season, the Lightning thought its overcrowded defensive corps had become a problem of the past.

But with the acquisition of Jeff Norton and Jamie Huscrosft in trades this week, and Wells recovered, Tampa Bay is back to having nine defensemen.

"Don't use the word "problem." It's a challenge," said coach Terry Crisp, trying to defuse the issue before Friday's morning skate. "I guess we'll have to sit down and put together whatever lineup we think can win."

So Friday night against Calgary, Wells, Rudy Poeschek and Igor Ulanov were all healthy scratches. "I can see signs of it already in there _ not unhappiness, but all the guys want to play," said Crisp, who seemed quite frustrated by the "challenge."

NO DINO: Right wing Dino Ciccarelli was out with the flu. Ciccarelli's temperature soared to more than 101 degrees Thursday. It went down to 99.5, but dehydration, muscle soreness and fatigue kept him out. His status for tonight at Vancouver is uncertain.

LIFE'S GOOD: The scar from his 120-stitch facial cut suffered last season is healing nicely. Though out with a whiplash injury, he had been getting lots of ice time. And he really seems to like Calgary. All in all, life is treating former Lightning wing Aaron Gavey pretty good. "It's been a 180-degree turnaround," said Gavey, acquired in the Rick Tabaracci trade. "In Tampa I was playing third or fourth line, and I was playing well before the trade. Here, I was getting regular shifts and even playing power play before I got hurt." Gavey should return for the playoffs.

THANK YOU, DAREN: Daren Puppa, who backed up Tabaracci on Wednesday, didn't dress Friday but may make his third start of the season tonight. Friday, he was asked about his progress from back surgery. "Every day," Puppa said, "brings a new day."

MISC.: Patrick Poulin returned after missing six games with a sprained knee, and fellow wing Alex Selivanov was back after one game as a healthy scratch. With Poulin off injured reserve, there are 25 healthy players _ one over the 24-man roster limit. But the trade deadline has passed and teams can have up to 28 players this time of the season, so no one had to be waived or sent to the minors to make room for Poulin.

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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