SUN Hockey Pool

Sarich visits old haunt

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

TAMPA, Fla. -- Cory Sarich isn't worried he'll walk into the wrong dressing room tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum.

He's been there before.

"It'll be different being back in the visitors room," said the Flames defenceman, who visits Tampa for the first time since signing in Calgary as a free agent this summer.

"I don't think I've stepped foot in there since the last time I was in there with Buffalo."

With Vancouver's Brendan Morrison set to go under the knife because of a wrist injury, Sarich will become the NHL's active ironman tonight.

When he takes the ice in Tampa, he'll be suiting up for his 420th consecutive game.

The Lightning roster, minus Sarich, is much the same as it was when he finished his six-season tenure with the team last year.

The big three -- Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards -- are still intact, gobbling up a major chunk of the salary cap.

The problems that have prevented the Bolts from maintaining the championship form that pushed them past the Flames in the 2004 Stanley Cup final remain as well.

For starters, the goaltending suffered with the loss of Nikolai Khabibulin to Chicago following the title run.

"He was one of those guys that made your job easier," Sarich said.

"You weren't as nervous when you went out on the ice. You knew you didn't have to play a perfect game. He would make saves for you.

"It's definitely hard to find someone to fill Khabibulin's shoes."

When you have a trio of offensive stars like Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards, it's often enough to earn a win.

But to be a championship-calibre team, you need more from the supporting cast.

It also hurts when a guy like Dan Boyle, who is always a threat to score from the blueline, is out of the lineup.

"There goes a lot of offence too," said Sarich, who can't offer any insight as to what's holding the Lightning back this year.

"I don't really know what their problems are, I just know what I've experienced there the last couple of years. They still have a really good squad, they just look a lot younger than they have been the last few years."


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