Bolts' Teddy Purcell no longer a spare part

BOSTON -- Teddy Purcell was taping his stick in the visitors' dressing room in Nashville on March 3, 2010, when he looked up at the television to find his life had taken a dramatic turn.

Undrafted, perhaps under-appreciated and definitely a spare part, Purcell was traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the Tampa Bay Lightning for veteran center Jeff Halpern.

"It happens. I was going to get traded either way so it doesn't matter how you found out. I didn't really know what to expect coming to Tampa, but I came in and it seems like it's been a good fit so far. Hopefully it'll continue for a long time now," Purcell said Sunday afternoon after the Lightning returned to Boston for Game 5 of an Eastern Conference final that is now knotted at two games apiece.

The Lightning aren't facing elimination in Monday's Game 5 due to a host of circumstances, not the least of which is Purcell's two goals 1:03 apart in the second period of Game 4 that helped the Lightning erase a three-goal, first-period deficit en route to an unlikely 5-3 victory.

The playoffs are for the most part a journey of discovery for both players and teams as a whole.

Sometimes the discoveries are disappointing. Sometimes they are illuminating.

In Purcell's case, the journey has been about reaffirming something he has long believed, even if others didn't: he belongs.

"Just more reassuring," he said Sunday.

"Players are made in the playoffs, and you always want to step up and be successful in the playoffs, and you never know what to expect going in, so I think it's good for your confidence to know that you can play and contribute," added Purcell, who had never played an NHL playoff game until this spring but has chipped in four goals and 11 assists and ranks third in team scoring.

"But you can never be satisfied. There's always room for improvement. I think every game is a learning experience for us."

A native of St. John's, Newfoundland, Purcell played a couple of seasons in the United States Hockey League, then played one season at the University of Maine before the Kings signed him as a free agent in 2007. He played in 91 games for the Kings, splitting time between Los Angeles and the club's AHL affiliate in Manchester, over three seasons before the trade to Tampa. He had eight goals with the Kings.

But after coming to Tampa, he scored three goals in 19 games at the end of the 2009-2010 season. This season, found a comfort zone playing often with Vincent Lecavalier and finished with 17 goals in the regular season.

The playoffs have shown that was no fluke.

"I guess it's been motivation my whole life. I was never drafted in the junior leagues either. Kind of went to college when I was a 21-year-old freshman, so I was old as you can be going into college. Guess I always had doubters and stuff; wasn't strong enough or wasn't fast enough and wasn't physical enough. So I guess it's always nice to prove those guys wrong, but I've always believed in myself and always knew that if I work hard, hopefully good things will happen. Just real fortunate that I wound up here in Tampa after the trade from L.A. and can't be more grateful for that," Purcell said.

The Lightning could hardly be happier, either.

"He's always had poise with the puck. I think what we were discovering with Teddy now is that when it's a tough game, when it's a close environment type of game where there's not much space out there, he can do the same now as what he was doing before when he had a lot of space," head coach Guy Boucher said.

"And to me, that's a major evolution of his game, because that means that what he was doing in the American League and college ranks, he can be doing in games now and not just during the regular season; he was doing it in the biggest games. So I think he's progressed so much; real proud of him."