This is no joke.
For the first time in 91 games, the Tampa Bay Lightning have
reached the .500 mark, and can thank several veteran's for the
club's rise from the cellar: Wendel Clark, Craig Janney, Bill
Ranford, and Daren Puppa.
Puppa, who has missed parts of the last two seasons to injuries,
has been outstanding in the nine games in which he has appeared.
Currently, he sports a 5-3-1 record with two shutouts and a 2.26
goals-against average. In his last outing against the New Jersey
Devils, he made 34 saves en route to a 3-1 victory, Tampa's sixth
in its last nine games.
"It's a big win for us. We haven't beaten these guys in a couple
years," said Puppa, whose Lightning were winless (0-6-1) in the
previous seven games against the Devils. "It's adding a little
more confidence for us."
Puppa's play in net has almost been equaled by Ranford, a 13-year
veteran acquired from the Washington Capitals in the off-season.
In six games, he has a record of 1-3-1 and a goals-against
average of 3.41. His only bad outing was against the San Jose
Sharks when he gave up six goals. He rebounded with a fine start
against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"I have been pretty happy with my play so far," said Ranford. "I
feel that I have played well, except for the San Jose game, the
team had no legs that night."
"Tonight's game was a great tie (Chicago 2-2) thanks to Billy
Ranford," said coach Jacques Demers. "We were outplayed the
first 10 minutes and he kept us in the game got us a point. A
year ago, we would have lost the game, but this is the new Tampa
Bay Lightning. We battle till the end."
For the second time in his career, Wendel Clark was let go by the
Toronto Maple Leafs. Injuries played a major role in the Leafs'
decision. In the past five seasons, Clark has appeared in more
than 60 games on just two occasions. In 1997-98 he scored 12
goals and 7 assists in 47 games, and appeared to be at the end of
He signed with the Lightning as a free agent this past summer.
He's glad he made the decision. In 14 games with the Bolts,
Clark has a team high nine goals and 14 points. He has also been
injury free, a fact which impresses Lightning management. Paired
on a line with Craig Janney and Mikael Renberg, Clark has
displayed the same fire which made him rookie of the year in 1986
and one of the top left wingers of the game.
Speaking of Janney, the center is second on the team in scoring
with 13 points, including 12 assists. Once considered one of the
best set-up men in the game, Janney has bounced between Phoenix,
Winnipeg, St. Louis, and San Jose since 1995. With the
Lightning, Janney has been asked to be the number one center, the
same role he played with Boston and St. Louis earlier in his
career. Thus far, he has not disappointed.
A third of the way to their 17 wins a year ago, Tampa is getting
excited about its hockey team again. Ranford, Janney, Clark, and
Puppa have a lot do with that. As Jacques Demers said, "they
battle to the end."
Cullen Update: John Cullen, recently sent to Cleveland of
the International Hockey League following his recovery from
cancer, registered seven points in a game against the Chicago
"I wasn't ready to become an assistant coach," he said about his
decision to play in the minor leagues. "I knew I could still play
and I wanted the chance to show that I could."
The game against the Wolves was also special because his father,
stepmother, and several friends were in attendance. The seven
points in one game was a career high for Cullen, who posted 157
points with Flint in 1988.
"I didn't think I played that well," he said to Associated Press.
"I was telling my brother last night and I called my wife this
morning. They said, `How you doing? And I didn't know. I was
getting frustrated. And they all said to me, you've only played
three games, relax."
"I know it was only three games, but I'm the type of guy if I
play a bad game I get down. So this is a confidence-booster."
Cullen is hoping for a return to the NHL, either with Tampa Bay
or another organization.