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NHL Center’s Comeback Is Slow

October 24, 1998

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The numbers game has slowed the John Cullen comeback story.

The Tampa Bay center, who missed last season while battling cancer, was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game and third time in four games Friday night when the Lightning hosted the Los Angeles Kings.

``It’s been tough. I’m not sure how much I’m going to play,″ Cullen said. ``Overall, I’ve been a guy that’s known he’s going to be in the line-up most nights. Now this year, it’s different. It’s hard.″

A move toward increasing team speed and the play of 1998 No. 1 overall draft pick Vincent Lecavalier and third-year pro Daymond Langkow has seen the pair receive playing time over Cullen at the center position.

``I can’t favor anybody. ... I just got to make sure we put out the best line-up to win hockey games,″ Lightning coach Jacques Demers said. ``I’ll let the game dicate, but I also told him (Cullen) it would be very unfair to him to sit ten games and then play him.″

Cullen was scoreless in his four appearances this season. Meanwhile, Langkow received high marks for shadowing Pittsburgh center Jaromir Jagr and Lecavalier picked up his first point in Tampa Bay’s 5-0 victory over the Penguins on Wednesday.

``Jacques is playing the guys out there every night he thinks is going to win the game, but right now I’m not one of those guys,″ Cullen said. ``Obviously he’s not going change the line-up when a lot of guys played real well last game and I totally understand that. When I do get my next chance to play, then I’ve got to be noticed out there and play well.″

Cullen underwent extensive cancer treatment last year, including a bone marrow procedure. The 10-year veteran has 187 goals and 550 points in 621 career games.

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