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Lightning X-factor Boyle key on faceoffs, penalty kill

by Corey Long /

TAMPA -- After signing forward Ryan Callahan to a new contract and picking up defenseman Anton Stralman in free agency, the signing of center Brian Boyle did not get the big headlines for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

However, the value of the 6-foot-7, 244-pound forward was well known in the locker room, and Boyle's versatility and leadership has proven to be crucial to the Lightning's success in the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Boyle was one of the players who spoke to the team before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. His experience on the ice and leadership in the locker room makes him revered by teammates.

"We appreciate everything Brian brings to this team," Callahan said. "He's one of the best teammates you can have. He plays the game the right way, and he's an important part of what we do here."

Boyle is tough; he's played in every regular-season and playoff game. He is the top faceoff guy for the Lightning, winning more than 50 percent. He's their top penalty killer and has been called on to play shifts as a defenseman when needed. And with 15 goals in the regular season as the fourth-line center, he's shown a knack for scoring.

After averaging 12:59 of ice time during the regular season, Boyle is up to 15:27 in the playoffs. He averaged 15:16 against their second-round opponent, the Montreal Canadiens, during the regular season.

"We lean on Brian a lot and he has to do several things for us," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He's asked to be a penalty-killer, he's asked to win faceoffs, and we need those things out of him even more in the playoffs. I don't think you can put a value on what he means to this group."

During the mild celebration of the Lightning's triumph against the Red Wings in their best-of-7 series, Boyle provided some perspective with the message that this was just the first round and they need to continue to get tougher and elevate their play as the games get more difficult.

"It feels good to get that first series win and a win in Game 7 but we still have a lot to play for," Boyle said. "We're about to go against one of the top goalies in the world and play against a team that swept this organization in the playoffs last season. Both teams are different this year, but the Bell Centre is still a tough place to play and this is still going to be a big challenge."

As Boyle headed on the charter flight to Montreal on Thursday it was a reminder of how quickly things move on during the playoffs.

"Wednesday was great but Friday starts a new series," Boyle said. "We can't think about what happened [in Game 7], we can't think about what happened in the regular season. We have to rest up the best we can and get ready for a very good team."

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