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Tenuous, talented Purcell key for Tampa Bay Lightning

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 02:11 PM
TAMPA -

For the moment, the math doesn't add up for the Lightning. Even after three wins in four games, they trail in the playoff chase as they begin a three-game Canada swing. They might return in contention or might need their pine box to clear customs.

Here's some math that needs to be there: Teddy Purcell scoring. He did it in each of the past two games, finally. Against Carolina, it was a breakaway. Monday, it was a tip-in game-winner against Philadelphia.

With Vinny Lecavalier out for a good while, Purcell needs to live up to the three-year contract extension he received before this season. He's playing right wing, next to Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. There are no excuses.

“I want to prove to them that they made the right decision,” Purcell said. “I want to take that step personally as a player, to take that next step, to be that go-to guy, night in and night out. You strive for those situations. You want to take it and grab it.”

But Purcell doesn't always seem to be wound that way, to take it and grab it. He can be maddening. He has so much talent — and a lot of slumps. Where his head is at is always a central question. Even with those two goals, he has just six this season. Before those two goals, he'd gone 13 games without scoring. I mean, should Tom Pyatt have as many goals as Purcell?

It's not a new Teddy phenomenon. He set career highs in goals (24), assists (41) and points last season, but still managed 16- and 11-game goal-less stretches. Lightning coach Guy Boucher keeps telling Purcell to keep moving, keep fighting. It's the annual Teddy Talk. In years past, Boucher has cut Purcell's ice time or sat him altogether in the name of lighting a fire.

Purcell needs to get there on his own if he's going to reach the next level. I'm looking at some of these buzz-sawing youngsters the Lightning are throwing out there, flying munchkins. I figure Purcell better keep hustling and scoring, because I see a bunch of hungry kids who'd just love a chance to play alongside 91 and 26.

“Less thinking,” Boucher said. “When Teddy has a few games when he starts thinking, he gets into the gliding mode. Now we've got him in the skating mode, the battling mode.”

“I think we all know how good Teddy can be,” said Stamkos, who Tuesday scored his 200th career goal on an empty-netter. “He has one of the best skill sets I've ever seen. … You know, when things aren't going well, confidence becomes an issue. And I think with Teddy, it's great playing with Marty and myself. And we're generating some things.”

Still, there's probably another slump out there with Purcell.

“You try and stay positive in droughts,” he said Monday. “Every year in my career, I always seem to go 10, 12, 13 games without a goal. I don't know how to explain it. … (Monday), I get a couple of a good chances and I score on a tip, you know, maybe the luckiest play of the game. It's funny how it works out, but I've just got to keep going, keep taking positive steps.”

The Bolts can't take a single step back at the moment. One more stinker string of games and it's about rebuilding, and who gets traded, and will Marty and Vinny, and is Anders Lindback really the goalie to take this team to the next level? It'll be all of that.

But three wins in four games amounts to steam at this point, if not a head of it. And Lindback is playing calmer, cooler, and suddenly stopping most of the pucks he should. And Teddy Purcell is showing up in the goal column. His ability to stay there will help decide whether his team emerges or disappears.

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