Andreychuk key to Lightning's Stanley Cup hopes

Forget about a five-goal game in 1985-86. A 50-goal season in '93-'94? Next question, please. What about an NHL record 270 power-play goals? Sorry.

Consistency is what drives NHL veteran Dave Andreychuk. In 22 seasons, he has reached the 20-goal mark 19 times.

"I think the consistency in my game is something I've prided myself in over the years. I tried to be there every night, every season," said Andreychuk, who notched Nos. 20 and 21 on the season in Tampa Bay's 5-4 overtime loss to Ottawa on Monday.

"I pride myself in the games played (1,595). It shows my love of the game, the way I approach the game."

Some fans may have questioned the 40-year-old forward's approach on Dec. 2 when Andreychuk had one goal.

"There was a time during this year when I didn't think I could get it done," he said of reaching 20 goals. "I know a lot of my teammates as of (Monday) night talked about how I find a way to get some goals."

Compounding matters this season has been a change in Andreychuk's role. The Hamilton, Ont., native has been more focused on checking the opposition's top forwards than in previous years.

"To see him at 21 (goals), it's unbelievable," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster told CBC Sports Online. "He's tremendously consistent. Did I expect Dave Andreychuk to get 20 goals at age 40? I didn't expect that. But if anyone can do it, he can."

That's why Feaster couldn't pass up re-signing Andreychuk last summer after the latter played a big part in Tampa Bay advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinal against New Jersey. Feaster talks about leadership.

"He is a great leader and communicator," Feaster said of Andreychuk, who is fifth in faceoff percentage this season at 57.8. "He prepares as a true professional and shows the younger players what it means to be a professional and how you go about every game."

With 39 points, Andreychuk is enjoying his most productive season since 1997-98 with New Jersey (48). While he has reported aches and pains throughout the season, Andreychuk is averaging 17 minutes of ice time with two games left in the regular season.

"I think he's better this year," Feaster said, "and I thought he was excellent last year. In the post-season his game goes to another level. He's even more valuable."

Andreychuk, who had six points in 11 playoff contests a year ago, is 11th all-time with 634 goals. He is best known for sticking his six-foot-four-inch, 220-pound frame in front of the net on the power play.

"Honestly, I think Dave Andreychuk will play forever," Feaster said.

Said Andreychuk: "He (Feaster) doesn't have to wake up in the morning (like I do). Right now I feel really good. I'm still enjoying the game. Obviously, I'm contributing and having fun. As of today, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't play."

It's an easy decision when you play for the NHL's second-best team. With a franchise-best 104 points, the Lightning sit atop the Eastern Conference, one point behind league-leading Detroit.

So what does Andreychuk think about his team's chances in the hotly contested East?

"We match up pretty well with anyone in our conference," he said during a conference call on Tuesday. "I think the youth we have on our team, they're eager. I know we don't have a lot of experience going deep in the playoffs, but I think we make up for that in the way that these guys approach the game."

They follow their captain's lead. Andreychuk will play hurt, take hits in front of the opposition net and use his body or feet to take away a shooting or passing lane on the penalty kill.

"He leads by example," said Feaster. "Andy is one of the old-time hockey players. He never cheats himself."

All that's missing from a successful career is a Stanley Cup ring.

"That's why I'm playing the game, to win the Stanley Cup," said Andreychuk. "I've been out of the playoffs three times, and I think those summers are your longest summers.

"This year, I have as good a chance as anybody in the league to win. I'm going to do my best to try to do it."