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Southeast: Ramo hitting his stride in goal

by Robert Picarello

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo knows that with the trade of starter Johan Holmqvist, he has a chance to win the top job.
Karri Ramo video highlights
From his first start in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Karri Ramo has proven he has what it takes to be an NHL goaltender.

Way back in December, the 21-year-old showed nerves of steel in his League debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ramo not only stopped 31 of the 32 shots the Leafs fired his way that night in Tampa's nail-biting 2-1 victory, he also put an end to a three-game losing streak. As an added bonus to his first NHL victory, Ramo became the first rookie in franchise history to win his debut.

"He obviously gave us a chance to win," Lightning assistant coach Mike Sullivan told The Associated Press after the win. "I thought he made key big saves at some critical times. To have success in this League, you have to get timely saves, and I thought he did that for us."

Lately, Ramo has been coming up big once again. Coming into Thursday's action, he had posted a 2-1-1 record in his last four starts, with a 1.63 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage in three of those games. In an 8-4 win over the New York Islanders Tuesday, Ramo allowed more than two goals for the first time in three starts and more than three for the first time in five games.

"It's a big opportunity for me in my short career here," Ramo said. "I'm just going to try and make the best out of my first chance and make it work."

Ramo isn't the only youngster on the Tampa Bay roster trying to establish himself. Four of the Lightning’s seven defenders are 23 or younger.

"It's great to get a chance to play with the other young guys on defense," Ramo said. "But we also have a couple of really good veterans, too, and All-Star players who really help out a lot of us young guys. But I think we also can help each other a lot because we are in the same situation growing up in the League."

Veteran Johan Holmqvist lent his expertise to Ramo, but now the rookie is on own following the trade that sent Holmqvist to Dallas in the Brad Richards deal.

"It was a really big help for me having a guy like Johan Holmqvist around, a guy that knows what it's like to come form Europe and to play in the NHL because it's a totally different thing for a Canadian or US goalie who lives here," Ramo said. "He knew a lot about the struggles that I have had to go through and helped me out with those situations. It certainly helped a lot having him here."

Believe it or not, Ramo found it easier to get adjusted to the NHL as opposed to the minors.

"Making the adjustment from Europe was harder for me than making the adjustment to the NHL from the minors," he said. "The game is different and the rink is different, so that was the hardest part for me when I came over. Every day I just learn more and more about playing here and how to play in this league."

While his 5-9-2 record in 17 games may not indicate Ramo has the goods, don't let the stats fool you. Ramo is the real deal.

"I've been on a lot of teams that struggled. I played in Finland many years on a team that everybody was saying that we shouldn't even be in that league, but still we managed to get through the season,” Ramo said. “I learned a lot from that and how to play in that type of situation. Now it's kind of similar lately being that we lost a lot of games, but I don't think that puts more pressure on me. There's always pressure to perform up here, but I have to look at it as a great opportunity for me to show them what I can do. I want to show them that I can be part of the ones to help turn this thing around."

Who's hot -- Tampa Bay's Michel Ouellet has 11 points in his last nine games with seven goals and four assists. He collected three points Tuesday night in an 8-4 rout of the New York
Islanders, scoring two goals and one assist. … Washington's Alex Ovechkin has points in seven-straight games, including two goals in a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames Wednesday night. In those seven games, the Ovechkin has eight goals and seven assists. … Carolina's Eric Staal has assists and points in five-consecutive games, including one goal and two assists in a 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Over that span, he has four goals and eight assists. … Florida's Nathan Horton has at least a point in six-straight games. In a 4-2 win over the Islanders Wednesday night, Horton had an assist, giving him three goals and three assists in his last half-dozen games. … Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk has three goals and two assists in his last four games. Over the last six seasons, Kovalchuk has scored the most goals overall (247) and the most power-play goals (91) among all NHL players.

Southeast Quotes
-- "I think it'll set in a little more when the season's over, or my career's over. I kind of just approach it as a playoff game for us. We're in a must-win situation every night, and it just happened that tonight was my 300."

-- Washington Olaf Kolzig said Wednesday night after recording his 300th NHL win.

"The guys worked so hard, you want to do the best you can. We take pride in not letting any goals in. I'm feeling really good and fortunate to play on a team that allows me to play as much as I am."

-- Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward said after recording his fourth shutout of the season Wednesday night against Chicago.

A look ahead
-- On Friday, the Thrashers travel to Washington, the Panthers host the Rangers and the Hurricanes make a stop in Buffalo. On Saturday, the Lightning host the Rangers. On Sunday, the Senators visit Carolina, the Capitals play Boston and the Thrashers play the Panthers.


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