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Team's recent form inspires St. Louis to push for return

He participated in Sunday's morning skate. He is going on this week's three-game trip through Canada.

Is injured right wing Martin St. Louis ready to rejoin the lineup?

"I'm not sure when he plays or if he plays," coach John Tortorella said before Tampa Bay faced the Bruins at the Ice Palace. "He'll come with us on the trip and practice with us and we'll see what happens."

St. Louis has missed 22 games since Jan. 23, when he broke his right leg and tore ankle ligaments against the Penguins.

Despite the absence, only Brad Richards (18) and Dave Andreychuk (17) have more goals than St. Louis' 16.

St. Louis said the team's jump since the Olympic break pushed him to come back as quickly as possible. The skate helped him gauge how his leg and ankle would feel under the stress of a game's spontaneous movements.

St. Louis said the leg feels "pretty good." His concern is the strength of his ankle ligaments.

"I've got to be careful not to come back too early," St. Louis said. "I don't want to baby it, but I don't want to push it to the extreme. I want to move it right along and I think I'm doing it."

FIGHT NIGHT: Richards got good reviews for his first fight Friday against Montreal's Craig Rivet.

"People have been taking liberties of Brad the past few games," Tortorella said. "Brad Richards needs to understand he needs to fight for his ice too in certain situations. It's good."

BACKUP SPOT: General manager Jay Feaster said goalie Dieter Kochan will remain with the team the rest of the season in what is basically an audition for next season's backup job.

"I think he'll get a couple of games," Feaster said. "It's an opportunity for him to show he ought to be the guy we sign this offseason as the backup to Nikolai Khabibulin."

"I hope so," said Kochan, who had 38 saves in a tie at 3 with Philadelphia last week in his first game after coming from AHL Springfield. "Hopefully, I'll play my best and show them what I can do and get rewarded in the end."

TIME CONSTRAINTS: Left wing Andre Roy missed the 9:30 morning skate, in part, he said, because he is used to Ottawa's 10:30 skates.

"I guess I didn't check the board out closely enough," said Roy, acquired March 15 for Juha Ylonen.

"Missed communication," said Tortorella, who declined to say if Roy was fined. "We'll take care of that inside the locker room."

SAVE RECORD: Nikolai Khabibulin's 20 saves gave him a team record 1,572 for the season. The mark was 1,565, set by Kevin Weekes last season.

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO

Up next:MAPLE LEAFS

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