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Sharks D Boyle glad to have "Bolted" the Lightning

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All it takes is one look at the NHL standings to know that defenseman Dan Boyle is very happy to be with the high-flying San Jose Sharks instead of the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.

Boyle made a big commitment to the Lightning by signing a six-year, $40-million contract extension just before last season's trade deadline, giving up his chance at free agency to stick with the club as it tried to rebuild.

Tampa Bay finished with the worst record in the NHL, yet it's the place Boyle wanted to be. He even got a no-trade clause put into the deal to ensure he couldn't be sent away without his permission.

When the sale of the Lightning was completed over the summer, Boyle's big contract was one new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie looked to shed. Enter the Sharks, who needed to retool after yet another early playoff ouster.

San Jose had already inked veteran defenseman Rob Blake to bolster the blue line, and then moved to add Boyle, too. While he wasn't pleased at the time, Boyle feels much better now that the Sharks have jumped to a 23-3-2 mark.

The bad taste is long gone.

"No, not anymore," Boyle said with a laugh. "At the time I just signed a six-year extension, was planning to be there for a while. But certainly having seen the way some guys have been treated and what's gone on so far, and the way on top of it I've been treated here, I have no regrets whatsoever."

Nor should he. The Sharks entered the weekend with a 15-0-2 mark at home and a 13-point lead in the Pacific Division, that contains only one team under .500.

Down South, the Lightning are again in trouble. Before a win over Montreal on Thursday night, Tampa Bay had lost nine straight and dealt with backbiting between fired coach Barry Melrose and the club. The Lightning were 5-7-4 under Melrose and then started 2-7-4 with interim coach Rick Tocchet calling the shots.

Boyle has taken notice of the club that has hit hard times since he and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004.

"I'm only human, right?" he said. "I definitely feel bad for some of the guys I played with. I'm sad for the fans because they had built that organization to what it was. Now to see what's happening out there, it's probably more sad than anything for me because I still think it's a great place to play and it's very unfortunate that all this stuff is going on."

It's quite a different scene in San Jose.

"I certainly didn't want to be somewhere, stuck somewhere where I was going to be in possibly a losing situation on most nights," Boyle said. "I knew I was coming to a good team. Certainly the talk is getting to the playoffs and getting on to the next round.

"Again, we'll cross that bridge when we get there."

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SHOOTING FLAMES: So much attention has been focused on the Dallas Stars and their reaction to forward Sean Avery's suspension.

The distractions have been plentiful for the last-place team, but the Stars weren't the only club caught up in the wake of Avery's crude comments regarding his ex-girlfriends now dating other NHL players.

Avery made his comments in Calgary just hours before he and the Stars were to face the Flames. There was no question that Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who is in a relationship with Avery ex Elisha Cuthbert, was a target of Avery's tongue.

Calgary lost the game and had to deal with questions not only about the loss but the fallout created by the NHL's most notorious pest.

Luckily for the Flames, they headed right out on a four-game road trip.

"It was like a circus there and the amount of questions about it," captain Jarome Iginla said. "It was a little bit of a distraction, but it's all part of it. I imagine it was for them, too. They probably had to answer a lot of questions. Both teams were in the same boat. We were about even."

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WEARING THE 'A': David Booth got a big surprise as he got ready to face the New York Rangers recently, but not much has gone right since.

Booth was surprised to see an 'A' sewn on his sweater before the game with the Rangers on Nov. 30 - the first time the third-year Florida Panthers forward was recognized in a visible leadership role by rookie coach Peter DeBoer.

"I thought that was an honor," the 24-year-old left winger said. "I didn't realize it until basically I put on my jersey. I didn't even expect it, but it's definitely an honor because we have a lot of leaders on this team. I'm just happy to be considered one of the leaders.

"It was pretty neat."

The only problem is, Booth hasn't had a chance to wear the letter again. He injured his shoulder that night at Madison Square Garden and entered the weekend having missed five games. Booth had scored in four straight games until being shut out by the Rangers in the two periods he played.

Still, it wasn't only his production that caught DeBoer's eye and led to his decision to designate him as an alternate captain.

A knee injury that has sidelined defenseman Bryan Allen for all but two games this season created the leadership void.

"We've kind of spread the alternate captain around," DeBoer said. "(Nathan) Horton wore it a little bit, (Keith) Ballard wore it a little bit. We thought Boother deserved it. He's come up big lately. He represents the type of team we want to have here and that's a team that is hard to play against that comes and works hard every night. One that has some speed and some grit. He represents all those things.

"I don't know if it's a reward. If you're asking me if he's wearing it because he scored the last few games, that's not why. Although, if that would work I would do it. He's had an exceptional season. He's brought the same work ethic to the game. The plan right now would be to spread it around to guys we feel have earned it."

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HOLDS BARRED: Jacques Lemaire made the low-scoring, trap-filled formula for success an art form when he coached the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup title a little more than a decade ago.

He moved on to Minnesota and got the Wild to the Western Conference finals, too, in 2003.

Now, Lemaire likes how the game is being officiated and believes the days of protecting a 1-0 lead by clutching and grabbing are over.

"It's good for the game. It's great for the game," said Lemaire, the only coach in Wild history. "Now it seems the referees, they're not afraid to call a team that should be called. I see that more and more. It's not enough yet, but it's more and more. That even if it's 3-0, if you don't feel like playing that night you're going to pay the price. And if you want to grab or hook, you'll be penalized. It's not one here and one there anymore."

Lemaire isn't concerned that penalty calls might not even out in a given game. As long as the team that is working harder is rewarded for that, and receives power plays against clubs who aren't matching the effort, he is fine with the system.

"Some nights you'll see a team get eight penalties and the other team will get two. If they don't feel like skating and they're hooking, they don't deserve to get help from the ref," Lemaire said. "So I think they're doing a better job there. I don't like it when it's us, but at least I can get mad - not at the ref, but at the players."

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in St. Paul, Minn., contributed to this report.

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