1. Lightning

Luke Witkowski's lengthy bout sparks Lightning

Lightning defenseman Luke Witkowski fights Rangers wing Tanner Glass.
Lightning defenseman Luke Witkowski fights Rangers wing Tanner Glass.
Published Mar. 7, 2017

Lightning defenseman Luke Witkowski's old-school bout Monday was a 12-rounder by NHL standards, lasting more than a minute.

And Witkowski, 26, certainly felt it after trading blows with Rangers' Tanner Glass. It was the longest fight of his career.

"I was glad to sit in the box for five minutes after that," Witkowski said, smiling.

Quipped Tyler Johnson: "I was tired just watching in on the bench."

The first-period fight provided a spark in the Lightning's 1-0 overtime loss to New York. It was a physical game, but Witkowski set the tone.

"A heck of a fight by him, he's a tough guy," Johnson said. "That really got us going."

Witkowski said Glass had asked him to fight off the faceoff and he gladly obliged, believing it could give Tampa Bay some jump. Witkowski graded the fight a draw. "It felt like a playoff atmosphere," Witkowski said. "And that kind of adds to it."

Both Witkowski and Glass traded several blows, tangled up near mid-ice. Referees tried to break it up 45 seconds in, but couldn't. "I wasn't tired yet," Witkowski said. "Wanted to try to get a couple more punches in."

Witkowski just wants to do anything to stay in the lineup. He was a healthy scratch for nine straight games until playing the last two. Witkowski was in a tough limbo area, where the Lightning couldn't send the Crunch captain down to the AHL because it feared losing him on waivers.

And with the Lightning in an 8-2-2 stretch, it stuck with the same blueline. So Witkowski sat, but took it in stride.

"It was tough, it's not where you want to be, but obviously you're a professional about it," Witkowski said. "I can't be down on myself, I've got to keep doing what I can. When I get the opportunity, I'll try to do something to keep me in the lineup. There's a lot worse places I could be right now."

Witkowski expected to be the seventh defenseman Monday, like he was Saturday, but ended up getting many shifts at forward on the fourth line.

"That's awesome, I want to play, whether it's forward, 'D', goalie, whatever," Witkowski said.

Witkowski said he likes playing forward, believing he has enough speed to get in on a forecheck, and be hard to play against. He even got on a 2-on-1 Monday, his shot steered aside. He's still looking for his first NHL goal. "It'll come," Witkowski said.

Witkowski played just 7 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time. And it remains to be seen whether he'll stick in the lineup again Thursday against the Wild. But Witkowski has given coaches something to think about.m

"He's our new Brian Boyle," coach Jon Cooper said of Witkowski's versatility. "What I liked was his energy. He's skating, he's physical. He's intimidating. He had some great plays off the rush. They were crashing the net. He's big. He's heavy. In the two games he's played for us, whether he's been playing up or back, he's brought a lot of positive emotion to our team. It's been good."