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Tampa Bay Lightning

Carle finds his way back to Tampa Bay Lightning

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:06 AM
BRANDON -

Matt Carle remembers sitting in pregame meetings on Nov. 9, 2011, going over the game plan before his Philadelphia Flyers were set to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After hearing what Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette had in mind, the general feeling from the players was extreme curiosity.

"You want us to do what? Just stand there?''

That's exactly what the Flyers did. Early in the game, when a Philadelphia defenseman had control of the puck in his zone, he did not move. It was an attempt to draw the Lightning into the zone and out of the 1-3-1 neutral zone system played by Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher.

Boos rained down from the crowd as the Flyers continued the tactic for several shifts, even having their defenseman move the puck back and forth inside their zone instead of staying stagnant. The game was on national television and led to criticism of Boucher's system and Philadelphia's counter tactic.

"I don't know if it was weird; it was more comical than anything,'' Carle said. "Obviously, it was a bad thing for the game of hockey and hopefully we won't see that again.''

Tampa Bay's system stuck in Carle's mind this summer as he surveyed his options in the free agent market. While he knew the Lightning had interest in his services, and Carle had interest in returning to Tampa, he needed some answers before committing to the Lightning.

"I had some questions for the coaching staff and Steve (Yzerman) when I considered coming here and they address some of those issues," Carle said. "I won't get into too much detail, but it was a thought process.

"But at the same time, this is a team that is not too far removed from being one win away from the Stanley Cup final and that's something that is pretty exciting. I think some of the pieces are here and it's just a matter of catching lightning in a bottle … no pun intended.''

Carle obviously liked what he heard before signing a six-year deal worth $33 million on July 4.

This will be Carle's second tenure with the Lightning, though no one could be blamed for forgetting his first stint. It was actually shorter than Barry Melrose's time as Tampa Bay's head coach.

Melrose was fired in November 2008 after 16 games. Carle was acquired from San Jose in the trade that sent Dan Boyle to the Sharks, but 12 games into the 2008-09 season was dealt to Philadelphia.

At the time, Carle was still finding his way in the league after coming out of the University of Denver. Since then, his game has matured into that of solid two-way defender capable of producing 35-plus points while excelling at blocking shots.

"The last time he was here he wasn't as experienced," Lightning right wing Marty St. Louis said. "Not that he's old, but he was much younger when he was here before. I think he definitely looks like he's playing with a lot more swagger right now.''

Carle chalks that up simply to being more experienced as he gets for his eighth season in the league.

"I think it's more or less keeping it simple,'' he said. "There were some times early on when I didn't want to make the easy play and I would try to be too cute at times. And sometimes I'll still do it. But at the same time, I'll see plays develop quickly and better and more easily, and that just comes with the experience.

"I've added a few more playoff games to my resume and I have that experience to play in the Stanley Cup final, but it's just trying to be more consistent, making a good first pass, taking what is given and make an easy play at times.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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