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Prospal's power in passing

Just a passing thought: it's what Lightning forward Vinny Prospal does best.

"That's why he's put up the points here," coach John Tortorella said, "because he can pass the puck better than some other people. That's why he's an offensive threat. His shot won't break a pane of glass, but he puts himself in position to score goals and puts other people into areas to score goals. "Here's a guy I've taken out of position, taken him from center and put him on left wing, and he just continues to tick."

Entering tonight's game against the Flyers, who drafted him in the third round in 1993, Prospal has six goals, three of them winners. He has a team-high 16 assists (No. 3 in the NHL), the past four setting up winning goals. And he is fourth in the league with 22 points.

"He sees everything on the ice," center and linemate Vinny Lecavalier said. "He's a great passer. That's what he does. He sees things that other players don't. That's why he's so creative and so good with the puck."

Prospal doesn't quite know how to react to that. "Maybe I was just blessed to see the ice better than some other guys," he said. "It's always been a thrill for me to set up the other players."

To get him last season, the Lightning sent center Ryan Johnson to the Panthers. "I shudder to think where we'd be (without him)," Tortorella said. "We let a pretty good guy go but we felt we needed to get more scoring at that point. And since Vinny came here he's been a big-play threat."

He did it in Sunday's 2-1 win at Carolina, setting up Pavel Kubina's third-period tying goal and Cory Sarich's overtime winner. As a bonus, his family in the Czech Republic got to see them; the game was televised in much of Europe.

In Prospal's first season with Tampa Bay he was No. 2 in team points (55), assists (37) and power-play goals (7). That followed a split 2000-01 season in Ottawa and Florida. He had a combined 29 points and 24 assists in 74 games.

"I started very slowly," he said. "I didn't score in the first 31 games or so and after five to 10 games I started putting more and more pressure on myself. I was getting the time (on the ice), about 15 minutes a night. It wasn't anybody else's fault but mine that I didn't (score)."

When he does, no matter where or when, it is cause for celebration. His own.

In practice, for instance. If he slips one past Nikolai Khabibulin, he raises his fists in celebration, whoops and takes a moment to do a bit of trash-talking as he sweeps past the edge of the crease.

"Habby and I, we've got something going there. I'm very happy the way he's taking it. He yaps back at me sometimes. He's very competitive."

Khabibulin grinned. "He just yells and makes everybody else see it. It makes me kind of mad."

Prospal's antics are part of what makes practice as much fun for him as the game.

"I celebrate every time I score," Prospal said. "I'm very happy about it. I like to show it. It just comes out. It comes from being competitive, and I think (Khabibulin and No. 2 goalie Kevin Hodson) try a little harder to stop my shots. There's never enough goals, not even in practice."

"I've never seen a guy so excited when he scores in practice," Lightning TV analyst Bobby Taylor said. "I'll bet he goes home and scores against his 2-year-old kid."

Despite his numbers and a seven-game points scoring streak, Prospal is, to many fans, just another name and number on a uniform. No problem.

"I don't care about the attention," he said. "I like to come and go. Vinny has the marquee name; Marty (St. Louis) is tied for third in the league in scoring. They're going to get the attention. That's fine with me. They deserve it. I've never been in that situation. If it comes someday I'll see how it feels. I don't need it. I'm more than happy just being here."

Here is not just with the Lightning; it means Tampa as well. "This is a very easy place to come to," Prospal said. "You leave the rink (after practice) and there's always sun outside." He, Monika and their son, Vaclav, split the year between homes in New Tampa and his native Czech Republic.

As for little Vaclav's goaltending . . .

Prospal laughed. "He'll be 2{ during Christmas. He's not on skates yet."

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