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Returning to painful memories

The last time the Lightning was here, Paul Ysebaert's groin ripped and his career very nearly was torn to shreds.

Ysebaert missed most of the rest of the season after sustaining the injury early in January 1996, and he spent most of last summer and the early part of this season recuperating.

"This summer was really bad," said Ysebaert, named by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association as the Lightning's 1997 nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. "When I was working out I knew it was not even close to right, and at the end of the summer it was really awful. I came to camp with no expectations at all."

Scar tissue was wrapped around the nerves in his groin. But Ysebaert persevered. He consulted with experts, opting to strengthen the muscle via weight training rather than surgery. And his recovery still is not complete, evidenced by an imbalance that has caused him to strain the opposite-side groin muscle and miss nine games in late February/early March. Yet after missing the first 34 games, the team captain returned Dec.

28 against Montreal.

"I wouldn't have really known (if his career was done) until I played a game," said Ysebaert, who _ going into Saturday's late-starting game in Vancouver _ had three goals and 12 assists in 28 games since, including an assist on Chris Gratton's first-period goal in Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime victory at Calgary late Friday. "Then I played 25 minutes against Montreal, and that game there gave me the confidence to go on."

Previous winners include Mario Lemieux, Cam Neely, Pat LaFontaine and, last season, Calgary's Gary Roberts, who returned after missing 11 months with a serious neck injury that required two cervical operations. Other Lightning players nominated for awards: Mikael Andersson for the Lady Byng (for sportsmanship/gentlemanly conduct) and Rob Zamuner for the Selke (defensive excellence).

FINALLY: He hit the crossbar on a power play, and clanked the post off a faceoff. By the time rookie C Jeff Toms picked up the puck and looked at fallen Flames goalie Trevor Kidd in overtime Friday, he said, "I was due."

GOOD SELL: Shawn Burr thought he had a goal early in the third period Friday. He even raised his hands to celebrate, but the play never even went to formal review. When he finally did score the game-tying goal in the third, Burr said, "I figured we better hug to make sure we got that one."

MISCELLANY: Wing Dino Ciccarelli was expected back after sitting out Friday with the flu. D Rudy Poeschek also was expected to return to the lineup, replacing D Cory Cross, who took a slap shot off his foot in Calgary. F Brantt Myhres was a healthy scratch. Corey Schwab was scheduled to start in goal over Daren Puppa and Rick Tabaracci.

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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