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Holmqvist just sitting pretty

Johan Holmqvist was ready to let the chips fall where they may.

The Lightning goaltender said he began the season prepared to simply work hard without worrying about playing time or titles.

"I really didn't want to put pressure on myself,'' Holmqvist said.

But Roger Svensson, Holmqvist's longtime friend and coach in his hometown of Tierp, Sweden, told a somewhat different story.

"His goal was to be No. 1,'' Svensson said Monday by phone. "I'm not sure what he tells you, but that's what I think.''

Holmqvist, who entered the season a clear No. 2 to Marc Denis, is just about there.

He certainly is No. 1 in November, starting nine of 13 games and winning eight with a .914 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average.

Long term, though, perhaps it best to think of Denis and Holmqvist as 1 and 1A.

"I think so,'' captain Tim Taylor said. "That's not a discredit to Marc. But we have two guys the organization feels very strongly about.''

Denis, 29, acquired from Columbus for Fredrik Modin, was touted as the answer to Tampa Bay's goaltending problems and signed a three-year, $8.6-million contract.

Holmqvist, 28, Sweden's top goalie last season, came in the back door as a $600,000 free-agent signing.

But Denis slumped and Holmqvist responded.

"If he keeps playing the same way, I'd imagine he'd keep playing,'' goaltenders coach Jeff Reese said. "It doesn't matter if someone was expected to play that much. If they're going to do the job, they're going to get an opportunity to perform.''

Svensson said he first saw Holmqvist perform as a 15-year-old in an adult league in Tierp. Svensson, 18 years older, also played and was the league's goaltenders coach.

"He's very strong mentally,'' Svensson said. "He's a stubborn guy. He sets up a goal and he doesn't give up until he reaches it.''

Which means taking nothing for granted.

"I know I've had a good streak, but it's a new day tomorrow,'' Holmqvist said. "You can't forget. You know what you're doing good, just go out and do it better.''

Same for Denis, who has lost five straight games and in his past six allowed 26 goals.

Denis said all he can do is prepare for his next game, though he admitted, "I don't know when that's going to be.''

As for sharing the position, he said, "The team has to have success and now we are, so there are no complaints from my part.

"Any goalie would love to be out there every night. You're more comfortable. You feel like the guy. But this isn't about Holmer or Marc Denis or whoever it may be. It's about winning hockey games.''

Still, with coach John Tortorella consulting his "gut'' on goaltending decisions, Holmqvist knows no start - even tonight's against the Capitals at the St. Pete Times Forum - is guaranteed.

As right wing Marty St. Louis said, "It's a long season and I think Marc is going to have his run, too. Right now it's Holmer. It could be Marc next week.''

"We have two capable guys,'' Reese said. "We're going to need both of them.''

Whoever is No. 1.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at (727) 893-8622.


Lightning vs. Capitals

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM.

What to watch for: Capitals left wing Alexander Ovechkin leads the team with 15 goals and 25 points. ... Ovechkin's four game-winning goals entered Monday tied for the league lead with several players, including Lightning right wing Marty St. Louis. ... Ovechkin also led with 124 shots. ... Defenseman Brian Pothier leads the Capitals with 12 assists. ... Washington is 0-4 in shootouts. ... The Lightning is 6-2-0 in its past eight home games.

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