The Lightning's celebration of Saturday's long-awaited victory was tempered slightly when players learned of what happened to Montreal's Trent McCleary earlier in the day.
McCleary was in a fight for his life after a fractured larynx and collapsed lung when hit in the throat by a slap shot. He was given a tracheotomy and spent Saturday night in critical condition in a Montreal hospital. Sunday, McCleary was out of danger.
Lightning center Darcy Tucker is a former teammate of McCleary, who also has connections with coach Steve Ludzik and general manager Rick Dudley. McCleary played for Ludzik and Dudley in Detroit with the Vipers.
For the rest of the players, there was concern because they knew it could have been any one of them.
"You really don't think about something like that happening when you're on the ice, but, I guess, deep in your mind, you know there's risk every time you're out there," said defenseman Paul Mara, who suffered a broken jaw when hit in the face with a puck earlier this season. "Your face and throat are so exposed, and there isn't really a whole lot you can do to protect yourself."
So, isn't it a wonder that injuries such asMcCleary's don't happen more often?
"Actually, I'm not surprised that it doesn't happen more often because the reflexes and instincts of these players are so incredible and so quick that they avoid it," Dudley said. "Sometimes, you can't avoid it, but most of the time, just at the last second, a player just instinctively gets out of the way. That's just the way hockey players are. I couldn't avoid being hit now probably, but when I played, I could.
"But it's not something you think about when you're out there. I guarantee you that players will think about it in the next couple of days because of what happened, but when you're out there, if you think about getting hurt, then you're in trouble and you're probably not playing at this level."
PETRO FUEL: Give Ludzik credit for giving forward Robert Petrovicky credit.
After Saturday's game, Ludzik pointed to Petrovicky as one of the Lightning's best players.
"You know, maybe I was wrong, and I've pigeon-holed Petrovicky," Ludzik said. "I thought he was only a player who could provide offense in certain situations, and I didn't give him enough credit for playing smart defense. But the last couple of weeks, he has proven me wrong. I really like the way he played."
That's quite a compliment for Ludzik, who often has scratched Petrovicky and considered him to be lacking in defensive skills. Petrovicky, though, is tied for the team lead with a plus-5 rating. In the past, if Ludzik couldn't find room on one of the top two scoring lines for Petrovicky, he wouldn't play him. But now Petrovicky may start seeing more time on other lines and less time in the press box.
ODDS AND ENDS: When defenseman Petr Svoboda was named to the World All-Star team on Jan. 12, he was a plus-5 for the season. But in his next eight games, Svoboda's plus-minus went into a tailspin, leaving him at minus-3. Svoboda bounced back with a plus-2 Saturday, his first plus game since Dec. 23, a span of 12 games. Saturday marked the first time in 39 games _ since a 2-1 victory at Dallas in the season's 10th game _ that the Lightning did not allow an even-strength goal. Atlanta's goal came on the power play. Saturday also was the first time in 29 games that the Lightning allowed fewer than two goals.
_ TOM JONES