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Affiliate woes push Eklund up goalie list

Had goalie Nikolai Khabibulin been seriously hurt Monday when he was hit on the right arm by a slap shot (he sustained a bruise), the Lightning would have called up Brian Eklund from ECHL Pensacola.

Eklund is a fine young goalie, and goaltenders coach Jeff Reese said "he has a chance" to make it in the NHL. But he is not the third-best goaltender in Tampa Bay's system.

That is Fredrik Norrena. But Feaster said because Tampa Bay does not have an AHL affiliate, he did not try to sign the Finn last summer even after his agent said Norrena wanted to come to North America.

"We don't have our own affiliate, so there is no place to put him, so we didn't pursue that," Feaster said Tuesday. "If we get our house in order as far as an American league affiliate for next year, it's something we would take a look at."

Feaster said the plan, should either Khabibulin or Grahame be hurt, is to call up Eklund as a backup. If however, the injury were serious and meant extended recovery time, Feaster said he would consider acquiring a veteran.

That, he said, would create its own problem. Feaster said when the injured goalie got healthy, Tampa Bay would keep its three veterans on the roster because "we wouldn't have an (AHL) spot for the guy we acquired."

That also applies to day-to-day operations. "We don't have the ability to go out and say, "Let's acquire and let's sign a veteran that we think can be a legitimate third guy because we don't have any place to put him,' " Feaster said.

WHERE'S GEORGE?: Goalie Evgeny Konstantinov, nicknamed George, is with Pensacola and has fallen behind Eklund on the depth chart. At one time Konstantinov was believed to be Khabibulin's heir apparent.

"It's a tough one to figure because he has all the talent," head scout Jake Goertzen said. "It's just not coming together for him. He loses focus at times."

NOT HAPPY: Penguins coach Ed Olczyk confronted Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier on the ice after the game. Lecavalier said Olczyk accused him of trying to show up the Penguins when he celebrated his hat trick during Tampa Bay's 9-0 victory Nov. 8 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"I understand what he was saying," Lecavalier said. "When you lose 9-0 you don't want your team to be embarrassed. I wasn't trying to rub anything in anybody's face. I was just celebrating (that) I got a hat trick. I wasn't trying to show anybody up."

Nothing more developed between them. "I don't think it was any big deal," Lightning coach John Tortorella said.

ODDS AND ENDS: This is the first time the team has earned seven points on a four-game road trip. Defenseman Darren Rumble and left wing Andre Roy were scratched.

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO

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