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Camp Stories to Watch: Starting Strong

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning
Amidst all the varied reasons thought to be the cause of a season classified only as "disappointing," one sentiment in particular seemed to be met with mutual accord amongst the collective group of Lightning players deep in thought during the team's final day of interviews last spring.

"This is a feeling that none of us ever want to feel again," wing Teddy Purcell said on behalf of the group.

Purcell, of course, was referring to being denied a postseason spot just 12 months after he and the Bolts made it to within just one game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

But, undoubtedly, that same destination seems to be back in the mix following this offseason in which general manager Steve Yzerman has upgraded the blue line, solidified the goaltender position, and even added further depth to the forward position which is considered to be the team's strong suit.

Suffice it to say that the Lightning's outlook on the upcoming season is an optimistic one for a team that has turned the page on a catalog of troubles that had been well documented.

Steven Stamkos said a slow start last year prevented the Bolts from a playoff spot, and they won't let that happen again
"I think the start we had at the beginning of the year cost us a chance to play for the playoffs," center Steven Stamkos said. "But we have to learn from that now. We have no choice."

According to head coach Guy Boucher, his team was too zealous coming off 2011's successful postseason run, which burdened the club with unrealistic expectations this past season. That, and a tough road stretch to start the year, not to mention 321 man-games lost to injury, made for a difficult season in which key losses came in all areas.

So, in order to get his team back to form, Yzerman started with rebuilding the back end, acquiring free-agent defensemen Sami Salo and Matt Carle, as well as goaltender Anders Lindback to shore up a position that allowed an NHL-worst 278 goals allowed during the regular season.

Lindback appeared in 16 games last season with the Nashville Predators, going 5-8-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .912 save percentage as the backup to Pekka Rinne, but nonetheless shares the organization's mutual belief that he has what it takes to be a number-one goalie. The idea, it seems, is to have Lindback grow into the starting role while splitting time with Mathieu Garon.

Assisting the net-minding tandem behind the blue line are Salo and Carle, who bring experience and who are capable of fulfilling a top-four role, but perhaps most significantly, can move the puck out of the defensive zone and spark the transition to offense that the Lightning sorely need.

"I would say it's a significant upgrade," Yzerman said of his revamped back end.

And up front?

Yzerman added gritty forwards Benoit Pouliot and BJ Crombeen, who not only bring size, but each of whom are also expected to alleviate the responsibilities of the top-six forwards by aiding in secondary scoring.

The club's new additions, coupled with several key players' return from injuries including Garon and forward Dana Tyrell, the club's outlook on the upcoming 2012-13 season is bright.

"It was very difficult [the 2011-12 season], but if we hit adversity like that again, we'll be more apt to be able to deal with it having already gone through it," Boucher said. "That's important, because [this upcoming season] I think we're going to be better."
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