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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Surrounded by a pack of reporters in the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room, goalie Johan Holmqvist conceded that he enjoys the attention that comes with being in the NHL playoffs.
"This is what you play the whole year for," the 28-year-old native of Sweden said. "When the media comes around, it's a bonus."
The way he's playing in his first postseason series, Holmqvist may have to get used to it. Goaltending was expected to be the difference in his team's first-round matchup against New Jersey, however most people gave the edge to the Devils because of Martin Brodeur.
But while Holmqvist has rebounded from a shaky performance in a Game 1 loss to help Tampa Bay take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series, Brodeur has allowed nine goals in the three games.
Holmqvist stopped 30 shots in Tampa Bay's 3-2 victory Monday night, and the seventh-seeded Lightning can push the second-seeded Devils to the brink of elimination by winning Game 4 Wednesday night.
"Everybody has to step up their game including me," Brodeur said. "We're right there. It's just a question of getting ourselves believing that we can do it."
The Lightning's success against Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup champion who entered the series with a 1.89 goals-against average in 153 career playoff games, isn't a total surprise. After all, Tampa Bay won three of four regular-season meetings and have a potent offense led by 100-point scorers Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
But Holmqvist's inexperience was considered a liability. He entered with just 52 career regular-season games under his belt, 48 of them this season - his first with the Lightning after spending parts of three with the New York Rangers.
Instead of pointing fingers after the postseason novice allowed five goals on 24 shots in Game 1, the Lightning rallied around Holmqvist and encouraged him to relax and simply play his game.
"We help each other," he said. "I was a little bit too anxious, too nervous, and I didn't go out and do what I was supposed to do. They were just pushing me to go out there and have fun and enjoy it. This is a great time to play hockey."
Holmqvist responded by stopping 34 shots to win Game 2 at New Jersey, then stonewalled the media when he didn't make himself available for interviews in the locker room.
Turns out that was coach John Tortorella's idea. After hearing from the NHL office on the subject, the Lightning have provided access to the goaltender.
"I'm the one who didn't want him talking to you numbskulls. It wasn't him, so I don't want him looked at in the wrong way," Tortorella said before Game 3.
"He needs the experience dealing with (reporters). Every goalie does. But in my mind, I wanted him to get his feet wet a little bit and worry about getting himself back in this series."
Still, both teams stress that it's far from over. New Jersey can regain home-ice advantage by winning Game 4.
And, the Devils do still have Brodeur, one of the most successful playoff goalies in league history.
"I never worry about Marty Brodeur," New Jersey coach Lou Lamoriello said. "Never have. Never will."
Brodeur, who's 7-10 in the playoffs since winning the 2003 Stanley Cup, expects to play better. At the same time, his teammates have to find a way to convert more opportunities against Holmqvist.
"He's giving us chances," Brodeur said. "He's giving us the puck back on rebounds. ... We've just got to bury it more."
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