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Southeast: Lawton puts an end to Lecavalier trade talk

by Mike G. Morreale
Any residual rumors that had Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier headed north to Montreal at Wednesday's trade deadline officially were squelched Monday by Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton.

"We're not going to trade Vinny Lecavalier," Lawton told reporters. "I'm going to say 'never,' so I don't have to deal with it."

The statement was no surprise to Lecavalier, who admitted Lawton told him the same thing over the summer when he signed his 11-year contract extension with a no-movement clause that will begin July 1.

"You can usually say you should never say never, but because people have taken such liberties with that whole deal," said Lawton. "We never shopped Vinny Lecavalier. Did people ask about him? Of course. Who wouldn't? Were we actively calling teams? No. We never did and we never will. Let's leave it at that, so I don't have to answer any questions."

Not surprisingly, whenever Tampa crosses the border into Canada, the trade rumors begin to circulate. The team had visits to Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary last week.

"I don't know why it keeps coming up -- maybe the media a little bit in Montreal and Toronto," Lecavalier said. "The last one (during the All-Star break) had a little bit more legs than the others, but obviously now it's over."

With the Lecavalier trade rumors now out of the way, Lawton did mention his club still could be a seller at the deadline.

"I think we'll be pretty active because of our situation," Lawton said. "We've got some real good veteran players (forwards Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts, defenseman Marek Malik) capable of helping teams down the stretch. I think people are going to have interest in them. The clock is ticking and we have until Wednesday to make some decisions."

Hats off for Cully --
It may have taken 11 seasons, but Hurricanes forward Matt Cullen finally was able to celebrate his first NHL hat trick during a 5-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 22.

The third goal may have come into an empty net, but the 32-year-old Cullen certainly has earned the cheers. Cullen, who averages just over 16 minutes a game this season, knows the bottom line is doing whatever he can to help Carolina qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has 19 goals and 31 points in his first 58 games, and entered the weekend tops on the team with a 16.4 shooting percentage.

"I feel like I'm getting a bigger role and I enjoy that, any player wants that," said Cullen, who has centered the second line with Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose. "I'm just happy to be able to contribute. I'll do whatever this team needs to win. I want to be in the playoffs and I want to make another run like we did a few years ago."

Cullen had 10 two-goal games in 785 career regular-season contests leading up to his three-goal outburst against the Avalanche.

He also reached the 400-point plateau 1:19 into the second against the Avs on a goal that gave his team a short-lived 2-1 edge.

"There are a few teams within reach for us so it's exciting to be where we are," Cullen said. "With this last stretch (4-2-0 in six games prior to Saturday's game with Atlanta), we've put ourselves in a good position, but it's important for us to realize we're not in yet and we've got a long way to go. But at least we're in the hunt. It's a race now."

The Hurricanes entered the weekend tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference with Buffalo, and one point behind sixth-seeded Florida.

Capital thief --
Could the Washington Capitals pull off the natural hat trick at the 2009 awards ceremony at the end of the season?

Let's start with Alex Ovechkin, the reigning Hart, Richard, Ross and Lester B. Pearson winner. Surely one of the game's most admired performers is likely to repeat in one of those categories.

Then there's defenseman Mike Green, who certainly is in line for the Norris Trophy as the League's finest defenseman. Coming up fast, however, is sophomore center Nicklas Backstrom, who might be in line for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward. Entering the weekend, not only was he tied for ninth in the League with 66 points, but he ranked third with 62 takeaways.

Only Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (75) and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk (67), the 2008 Selke winner, have registered more thefts this season.

"You can just see in him that he's got the intelligence to do it and the wherewithal," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau told The (D.C.) Examiner. "Nick is not going to be a good two-way player. He is a good two-way player. And he's going to be one of the better two-way players that's come around in a long time."

Shorthanded sizzlers -- The Atlanta Thrashers have become a sleeping giant while shorthanded.

Entering the weekend, the Thrashers were tied for sixth in the League with 9 shorthanded goals -- including the most recent man-down goal by Todd White in a 4-3 loss to the Capitals on Thursday. The score by White was the team's seventh shorthanded goal in eight games. Atlanta is 6-1-0 when scoring at least one shorthanded goal this season -- the first setback coming against the Caps.

"When you do have a chance, you can maybe catch some guys sleeping," said center Rich Peverley, who has 1 shorthanded goal in 19 games with the Thrashers. "Anytime you can take advantage of an opportunity, we want to go down and offensively take an opportunity."

Left wing Colin Stuart, who leads the team with three shorthanded goals this season, already is tied for third in Thrashers history with four shorthanded goals in his two-season career.

"You get a lot of good opportunities shorthanded if you're moving your feet, because the other team's kind of flatfooted," Stuart told Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "They have an extra guy, so there's a different mentality for them. Sometimes you can catch teams sleeping."

Buzzing in Florida -- The last time the Florida Panthers qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, coach Peter DeBoer was leading the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers to a 45-18-4-1 record. That was 1999-2000.

"I had a lot more hair back then, I can tell you that," DeBoer said

The Panthers entered the weekend clinging to the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference with 70 points. The last time the club lost three straight games was the last week in December, when if suffered losses to the Lighting, Canadiens and Islanders in a span of five days.

The biggest turnaround from early in the season, when the Panthers compiled a 9-11-3 record through October and November, is the fact the club has been able to win with more consistency.

"We expect to win games and we're disappointed when we don't and I think we've got a crystal clear idea as a group on how we have to play in order to be successful, and we know when we stray off that path what went wrong and how to fix it," DeBoer said.

"It's confidence," Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester told "We've come from behind some games and won and realized we could hold on to leads. On top of that, we don't seem to go into panic mode any more and everyone here knows what kind of game we need to play to be successful. We're not going to win many shootouts with teams, but if everyone works hard, we have a solid group to be successful."

Veteran defenseman Bryan McCabe can sense the urgency and determination within the locker room.

"We've got a lot of character in this room. We know we're never out a game. The main reason we've been successful, though, is that we've gotten great goaltending every night and that has given us an opportunity to win. Guys have been doing the little things to get the job done."
-- Bryan McCabe

"We've got a lot of character in this room," McCabe said. "We know we're never out a game. The main reason we've been successful, though, is that we've gotten great goaltending every night and that has given us an opportunity to win. Guys have been doing the little things to get the job done."

Ice chips --
Colby Armstrong's next goal, which will be his 16th, will match his career high. Meanwhile, Thrashers forward Slava Kozlov is nearing Bobby Holik's franchise record of 190 consecutive games played. Kozlov's 191st game could be March 17 at Pittsburgh. … The Capitals entered the weekend ranked No. 1 in the Eastern Conference and No. 3 in the NHL with a 24.2-percent power-play efficiency. The franchise record (23.9 percent) was established during the 1984-85 season. … Carolina's penalty kill has allowed just 10 power-play goals in the team's last 18 games entering the weekend, going 55-for-65 (84.6 percent) since Jan. 17. … Alex Ovechkin, who led the NHL in goals in November (11) and December (12), is tied with Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk with 11 goals in February. With just one game remaining in February and having scored 7 goals in his last seven games, Ovechkin still remains three goals shy of the best goal-scoring month of his career (14, March 2008). … Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis entered Friday's game against Vancouver as the team's leading scorer (58 points), including 4 points over his previous four games. Additionally, rookie Steven Stamkos had 4 goals over the recent a five-game stretch. … The Panthers' goaltending tandem of Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson entered the weekend sixth in the NHL with a 2.62 goals-against average and second with a .927 save percentage. Additionally, the duo has combined for a 9-2-2 record when facing 40 or more shots. … Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen scored his 21st career shootout goal in 39 attempts Thursday in a 2-1 victory against Buffalo.

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