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SUSTR JUMPS RIGHT BACK INTO ACTION

The Lightning didn't waste any time getting Andrej Sustr back in the lineup Saturday against the Stars after his Friday callup from AHL Syracuse.

Tampa Bay likes the 6-foot-8 rookie defenseman's right-hand shot, his poise under pressure and that he makes such a good first pass in the defensive zone.

"Great hockey sense," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "A good passer, patience, waits for the seams to open and then moves it well."

Sustr, 23, made the big club out of training camp and had played 38 games with seven assists, an average 15:28 of ice time and at plus-4 when he was sent to the Crunch in mid January, ostensibly because he could be moved without clearing waivers.

But Sustr played only 12 games with the Crunch because of a separated left shoulder. The good news is the injury gave the 225-pounder an opportunity to work on his lower-body strength, a good start on his summer workout program that will target overall strength and conditioning. "I just want to keep playing like I left off," Sustr said before the game. "Just keep playing simple hockey, good defensive hockey."

"He can play in this league," said Bowness, who handles the defense. "This kid knows how to play the game. He's going to be in this league a long time."

TIRELESS: Despite a sore right wrist and a workload that is 17 games more than he had played in his whole career entering this season, Ben Bishop, who started his 62nd game Saturday, continues to get the call in net. "He says he feels fresh and wants to play," Bowness said of Bishop, who has started 30 of the past 32 games. "We have a day off (today), and we don't play till Tuesday, so that's a couple days between games." Besides, Bowness said of the playoffs, "We want home ice. When you want home ice, you play your best players."

EMERGING: RW Nikita Kucherov played his seventh straight game since being scratched for five in a row. How is he doing? "Good enough we haven't pulled him out," coach Jon Cooper said.

Kucherov had a goal and two assists in those seven games entering Saturday. But his offensive production is not the most important consideration. "He's back to playing both ends of the ice," Cooper said. "He's playing a 200-foot game again." There also is this: "He's still good for maybe one turnover a game," Cooper said, "but that's down from four, so he's made some big strides."

SHOOTING GALLERY: After having 24 shots blocked by the Flames on Thursday, the Lightning for a couple of days worked on getting shots through to the net. "You've got to move. You've got to get your eyes up," Bowness said. "You stand there, someone is going to come right up at you. You've got to fake pump a bit and be a lot more active on the blue line to get your shots through."

ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning entering Saturday had not lost in regulation to the Stars since December 2003 (5-0-2). ... Forwards B.J. Crombeen, Cody Kunyk, Tom Pyatt and Richard Panik, and defensemen Mark Barberio and Mike Kostka (concussion) were scratched.

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