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Braydon Coburn playing like Lightning's final piece

TAMPA, Fla. -- Eyebrows were raised when the Tampa Bay Lightning gave up what they did to acquire Braydon Coburn at the trade deadline.

Sending Radko Gudas, a first-round pick and a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Coburn seemed a hefty price to some.

But the Lightning's brass made a calculated move. It had scouted Coburn for a long time and felt his on-ice acumen and experience in the room was a package the team needed.

Less than two rounds into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman looks to have been bang-on with his assessment.

Coburn scored the Game 7 winner to knock out the Detroit Red Wings in Round 1. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens, he stood up for his goalie in a fight with Brandon Prust. And all the while, he has played a steady game on the blue line.

“He’s done nothing but make our general manager look good in that trade,” head coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday. “He’s kind of rounded out our top four. He’s given us another big-body defender, somebody that sticks up for his teammates. Especially for him to be able to chip in a goal like that, we were all excited, but for him to do that in a new environment, you’ve got to feel pretty happy for the guy. He’s been a good get for us, for sure.”

Yzerman, in a conversation with ESPN.com on Tuesday, said Coburn is a big guy who skates well and has good reach.

“And we wanted to get a guy that we felt could play in a top-four role for us and be a solid defender. And he has been that,” Yzerman said. “He’s also a really nice guy.”

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Coburn has brought the full package to Tampa, endearing himself immediately to his new teammates.

Which hardly surprises his former teammates.

“He’s probably the best-shaped athlete I’ve ever seen,” Kimmo Timonen, Coburn's former Flyers teammate, said in a phone interview. “Every camp we had, he had the highest scores. He’s got all the tools as a hockey player. Off the ice, he’s always in a good mood. Just a great guy all-around.”

Timonen was traded to Chicago just a few days before Coburn, his long-time defensive mate, got shipped to Tampa.

“We were partners for years,” said Timonen, 40. “I always loved playing with him. And we were buddies off the ice. He’s a kind person off the ice. He takes his time to make sure you’re OK. On the ice, he’s got all the tools. He’s big, he’s a good skater, he can help any team for sure. … I really liked playing with him because I was able to make mistakes and he was able to cover because he was such a good skater.”

Coburn’s face lit up Tuesday when told of Timonen’s comments. Clearly, the admiration is mutual.

“That guy, I can’t say enough about him,” said Coburn, 30. “What he went through this year, being able to be his teammate for the last eight years, he is a guy I really looked up to and someone I’m really glad I got to play with and see what kind of character that guy had. The blood clots and all the stuff he went through, I’m just really happy for him to see him playing.”

The smiling comes easily for Coburn these days. He’s normally an upbeat guy anyway, but he’s healthy now after a season in which he suffered a broken foot three times, twice in Philadelphia and once right after joining the Lightning.

“I was four games in and I got injured,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re trying to develop some chemistry. It’s so strange. You’re kind of stuck in a new place, the team is on a road trip, you’re kind of like, ‘Man, this sucks.’ The good thing is, when I came into this dressing room, I knew guys. I knew Matthew Carlefrom a bunch of years in Philly.”

Plus, a former Flyers teammate who has longtime ties to Tampa made him feel at ease.

Vinny Lecavalier reached out to me and said, ‘You’re going to love Tampa. Great people, great guys, great trainers,’" said Coburn, a native of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan. "He kind of set my nerves aside when I got here."

Despite missing six weeks with the injury, Coburn has integrated himself almost seamlessly into the Lightning fold.

“First of all, he’s a good player,” Cooper said. “This isn’t his first rodeo. He’s been to the Stanley Cup final before. He was regarded as a really good teammate in Philadelphia, and the same has carried over here. So that gets you in right away. But I truly believe players can see through players, so if you’re not a competitor, if you’re not a good teammate, eventually guys are going to see through that. But you check off everything you need in a player, and you get that in [Coburn].”

Again, none of this surprises anyone in Philadelphia.

“He’s a great kid,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren, the team’s longtime GM, told ESPN.com. “None of us could say a bad thing about Braydon. He did everything we asked in Philadelphia. He was always in the best shape of everybody coming into camp.

“He’s a good player. You can’t find 6-foot-5 guys who can skate like that and defend. Every time we had asked him over the years to play against Ovechkin or Crosby, he’s the guy that took that assignment, and he’s good at it. He’s big, he’s hard to get around, he can skate as good as anybody. Just a real solid player, but also just a real solid person more than anything.”

Eleven years ago, former Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster made a key trade deadline acquisition in bringing over blue-liner Darryl Sydor, a move that paid dividends en route to a Stanley Cup championship.

It’s easy to see parallels with the Coburn deal.

“Every team needs a piece to finish the puzzle,” said Dave Andreychuk, a winger on the 2004 championship team and now an executive with the Lightning. “In our case, Darryl Sydor was the perfect guy. That was a great move by Jay Feaster getting him. I see a lot of similarities in Braydon Coburn. We needed that defenseman to kind of finish off our group. ... He’s made other guys around him better, too. Less minutes for other guys, Victor Hedman is playing a bit less, all those things have helped make a difference with Coburn being here.”

Whether Coburn gets to hold up Lord Stanley’s prize like Sydor did 11 years ago, well, there’s lots of hockey yet to be played. Tampa Bay takes a 2-0 lead over Montreal into Game 3 here Wednesday night.

But wouldn’t it be just perfect if Tampa Bay and Chicago reached the Cup finals, reuniting old pals Coburn and Timonen?

Either way, Timonen figures he’ll catch up with his buddy after the season.

“Hopefully we have time to sit down and maybe have a couple of drinks and talk about our lives,” Timonen said.

While Timonen has kept his place in Philadelphia, Coburn -- who has one more year left on his contract -- sold his house there. To his astonishment, it took only one day to do so.

“I told everyone that I lived a couple of blocks down from Kimmo, so it was a hot commodity,” Coburn said, smiling. “That was my selling point.”

Coburn’s wife and two young children, ages 3 and 1, have settled with him in Tampa.

This is his new life.

“This is a great opportunity to be on a great team,” he said, “and I’m loving every minute of it right now.”