Tampa Bay Lightning
Vinny return boosts Bolts
BRANDON - Vinny Lecavalier hopped over the boards, made his way toward the center dot to collect a loose puck and skated in hoping to put a storybook ending on his return to the lineup. Alas, the Lightning captain failed to slip the puck between the legs of Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec during Wednesday's shootout, preventing Lecavalier's return from being dramatic. "For me, the shootout would have been nice," Lecavalier said, "but we still won in the shootout, so that's all that matters." Just having the team's all-time scoring leader back in uniform after a 15-game absence provides the team with a needed presence. And after a solid, if not spectacular, return from surgery to repair a fracture in his right hand, Lecavalier looks and feels as good as new heading into tonight's game against Buffalo."Very impressed, to be honest," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said of Lecavalier's showing. "I think Vinny came back with even more jump than he had before. "Obviously, he missed a good portion of his summer because of the (arthroscopic knee) operation he had, so he couldn't train his legs over the last month-and-a-half, and that's a lot, and he can't catch up on what he missed. But now he did, and he trained really hard. So he's got stamina, he's got jump out there and it's great. I love it." Lecavalier played nearly 17 minutes Wednesday and had four shots on goal. In the opening 15 games, he had three goals and nine points, but his game looked like it was beginning to round into shape before the fracture. The time off did little, however, to throw off his game. "The way I felt, it didn't feel like I missed five weeks, it just felt like I just kept on playing," Lecavalier said. "Energy-wise, I felt really good. I was surprised because sometimes when you miss four or five weeks you feel tired when you come back, and no matter how hard you work it's never like a game. But I felt really good." While long-term injuries such as those to Lecavalier and Simon Gagne, who missed 18 games with a neck injury, can take their toll on a team, Tampa Bay managed much better than expected. With 17 victories and 38 points through 31 games, the Lightning have the best start in franchise history. Unheralded contributions from Nate Thompson, Adam Hall, Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim helped the Lightning absorb the losses of key players. Now that Lecavalier and Gagne are back, the team presumably will be stronger. "I knew we had a lot more depth coming into training camp, and (the injuries) offered the chance for guys to step up and play a lot more minutes and take on a bigger role," alternate captain Marty St. Louis said. "Now, we are getting our guys back, and the guys that have played in those roles are better for it. I can't say I'm surprised (by the success) because of the amount of depth and character we have on this team. But it's nice to have (those guys) back." Now that he's back, Lecavalier hopes his return bolsters the team. "I'm excited; I think we have a good team, we work hard and we have a lot of talent," Lecavalier said. "We do the right things out there, the little details, and that's why we are a successful team and we'll get better and better as the year goes on."