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Line goes 4th without fanfare

Lightning left wing Chris Dingman looked up in mock surprise Monday when asked for an interview.

Center Martin Cibak said, "Me?" when he was approached. Right wing Dmitry Afanasenkov cracked a smile.

Such is life when you play on the fourth line.

The fourth line does not get a lot of minutes. Its players do not have the highest profile. Its defense-first job description does not have the cache as, say, playing on the first unit of the power play.

That does not mean Dingman, Cibak and Afanasenkov have not done their part during Tampa Bay's recent turnaround.

Instead of goals and flashy passes, they grind along the boards for puck possession. Instead of rink-length rushes, they spark the forecheck.

Important stuff in a game that can turn as much on grit and energy as a 100-mph slap shot or dazzling save. It just does not provide the jump our highlight-show, sound-bite world craves.

"Obviously, the guys who score the goals and the guys who get the points are going to get the attention," Dingman said. "I have no problems going about doing my job and just playing. If nobody notices, that's fine with me."

Well, not quite nobody.

"It's been an effective line for us," coach John Tortorella said. "They've progressed to where we are comfortable playing them against anybody right now. They have paid attention to the details of the defense and attention to the details of being aggressive on the forecheck. It is a line that has progressed and played very well."

No one can pinpoint exactly when the line was put together, but it coincides very closely with the 8-2-0-2 streak the Lightning enjoys.

There is no telling how long the line will stay together. As has been seen with even Tampa Bay's established lines, Tortorella is not afraid to shake things up if things go stale.

For now, though, the eight to 10 minutes the line provides seem to give the team an energy boost and bring, as Cibak said, "a little bit of everything."

Cibak can be a playmaker. Dingman is extremely difficult to knock off the puck and Afanasenkov can shoot.

They all skate well. Cibak and Dingman lead the forecheck. Even the offensive-minded Afanasenkov has bought into the defensive concept.

"We don't have a lot of ice time, so every time we go on the ice we bring the energy," Cibak said. "We try to work hard and try to hit. It's working right now."

"The important thing," Dingman said, "is to take a regular shift."

To help keep his other three lines fresh during the Lightning's four-game road trip that wraps up tonight against the Penguins at Mellon Arena, Tortorella has given the line more ice time.

The line came up big during Thursday's 3-2 victory over the Oilers, taking crucial shifts during a third period in which Edmonton was pressing and Tortorella believed Tampa Bay's other lines were tiring.

The line also gets work after Lightning goals to help ensure the opposition doesn't score on the next shift and the Lightning immediately gets back to forechecking.

The only glitch has been the lack of goals. Cibak has one, Dingman none. Though Afanasenkov has four, only one has come with this line. He hit the post Saturday against the Flames while facing an open net. He also tipped a shot into Calgary's Roman Turek that the goalie never saw.

"I just need to score," Afanasenkov said. "We're getting good chances. It will be more helpful for the team if we can score, too."

For now, especially with renewed production from the top two lines, Tortorella is not concerned.

"It's a matter of puck control and trying to keep it simple through the neutral zone and not hurt you defensively," he said. "If that continues, they'll be an effective line."

And maybe get some well-deserved attention.