Finally in the final

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:55 PM ET


 TAMPA -- The grey whiskers infiltrating Dave Andreychuk's playoff beard indicate two things.

 The 40-year-old Lightning forward is getting on in years and he's back in the playoffs -- hence the facial hair -- still tracking down that elusive Stanley Cup ring.

 Not that he needs to chisel his name on the game's greatest prize in order to squeeze through the doors of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

 The one-time sniper long ago ensured induction there, posting 19 seasons with

 20 or more markers, eclipsing the 600-goal plateau before this season.

 Andreychuk again scored 21 goals this campaign, while he's added a goal and nine assists through 16 playoff games this spring, revelling in the Stanley Cup spotlight.

 It's just that failing to bang home a championship in 21 previous NHL seasons has burned a sizable hole in Andreychuk's resume, not to mention his psyche.

 Making matters worse is the barrage of questions about finally winning a ring.

 "It's obviously what I play for," Andreychuk says, dealing with the queries as well as he's handled the puck during stints with Buffalo, Toronto, New Jersey, Boston, Colorado and Tampa Bay, where he signed with the Lightning as a free agent in 2001.

 "I think we have talked about this a lot in our locker-room and I am living proof of how hard it is to get here and how special it is. We have to all have fun and enjoy it because it doesn't come around very often.

 "I've been asked, when I look back, if I don't win a Stanley Cup, is my career down the drain? I don't believe that."

 Despite personal success, including a

 53-goal campaign with the Maple Leafs in 1993-94, Andreychuk's toiled numerous seasons with clubs such as Buffalo that have struggled in the playoffs, usually not making it past the first round.

 In the spring of 1993, Andreychuk's Maple Leafs lost in seven games to the L.A. Kings in the Western Conference final.

 With Colorado in 2000, the Hamilton native made another post-season appearance before bolting to the Lightning, the same season the Avs broke through for their second Cup win.

 Although the Lightning made it to the second round last season, Andreychuk is in his first Stanley Cup final.

 "He respects the game, he studies the game, he lives the game," notes Lightning coach John Tortorella, who got a glimpse of Andreychuk's potential years ago in Buffalo.

 "It's not a job for him coming to the rink for a couple of hours a day and then leaving. He thinks about it. I think that's why he's going to be a Hall-of-Famer."


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