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Mallette returns home after seeing specialist

Lightning forward Troy Mallette came to California, but he did not stay.

Mallette arrived with the team Tuesday, but instead of staying for Wednesday's game against the Mighty Ducks he went on to Los Angeles for an appointment with noted back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins.

Mallette has missed four games since an Oct. 23 fight with Boston's Ken Baumgartner, all because of what has been diagnosed as two herniated discs in his neck.

He saw Watkins, who performed surgery last season on Lightning goalie Daren Puppa, to seek a second opinion on a course on treatment for the injury, which general manager Phil Esposito said last week may be career-threatening.

Mallette returned to Tampa on Wednesday; Watkins' diagnosis and recommendation was not immediately known.

WHO GOES?: Interim head coach Rick Paterson said a decision on who will start in goal at Los Angeles tonight would be made after Wednesday's game. Puppa started against Anaheim.

"If (Puppa) is up to it, he'll go," Paterson said. "And if not, it's (backup Corey Schwab) and we'll tell him he's going to go right away."

That would be a departure from the days of former coach Terry Crisp, who preferred to wait as long as possible before telling Schwab he would start.

MILESTONE: It was a milestone night for forward Mikael Andersson. An original member of the Lightning, Andersson played in his 600th NHL game _ 99 games with Buffalo, 165 with Hartford and 336 with Tampa Bay.

SICK OF IT: Negotiations between the Ducks and restricted free-agent star Paul Kariya are stalled, despite Anaheim's latest offer of $49-million over seven seasons _ up from an initial offer of $25-million for five seasons.

Neither side is making official public comment on the messy affair, referred to in some circles as "The Kariyan War."

New Anaheim coach Pierre Page, however, checked in with this last week: He said Ducks officials Jack Ferreira and Tony Tavares should lock themselves in a room with Kariya's agent, Don Baizley, until a deal is struck.

Kariya, who some suggest is being encouraged by the NHLPA to set a new salary standard, is apparently unhappy with the deal's length and money structure. He is among six big-name holdouts that include Detroit's Sergei Fedorov, Vancouver's Alexander Mogilny, New Jersey's Bill Guerin, Pittsburgh's Petr Nedved and Phoenix's Oleg Tverdovsky.

Said Page: "The fans are sick of it."

HE'S A GEM: Page had kind words Wednesday for the Ducks' star who is playing, right wing Teemu Selanne.

"He words hard, he plays hard. He has such a disposition with kids, the media. I don't know how he does it," Page said of Selanne, who before Wednesday had a club-record goal streak of seven games. "You've got the whole package in front of you _ big-time package."

MISC.: Lightning defenseman David Shaw did not dress because of back spasms. Tony Esposito, the Lightning's scouting/hockey development director, joined the team in Anaheim from Dallas, where he attended a meeting of NHL general managers.

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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