Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist still fighting for No. 1 job in Tampa Bay

Denis was playing for Canada in that semifinal game and lost 5-4 to Holmqvist and Sweden, which went on to win the gold medal.

Both then found themselves in Tampa Bay at training camp and are each still trying to prove to coach John Tortorella that they deserve to be the No. 1 man in net for the Lightning.

It’s been a friendly rivalry as the two have developed into friends, but they still don’t talk much about Holmqvist’s victory over Canada at the worlds.

“It was pretty bittersweet not coming home with a medal,” Denis said Monday. “That was pretty much the gold medal game and it was very, very close.”

The gap between Denis and Holmqvist hasn’t widened much since. Both have had hot and cold runs this season in Tampa and Tortorella has made it clear that he hasn’t decided who will be the starter in the playoffs.

Denis currently seems to hold the upper hand. He’s posted consecutive wins over Edmonton and Calgary and expects to get the start on Tuesday night in Toronto.

But he knows he’s only as good as his next game.

“I really have to take it day by day,” said Denis, who is 10-3-0 since mid-December. “Every single game for me is important.”

The same goes for Holmqvist.

He was originally drafted by the New York Rangers in 1997 and appeared in four games for them before returning to his native Sweden two years ago to play for Brynas.

A good season there last year and his gold-medal performance at the worlds in the spring earned him a contract from the Lightning. That tournament in Latvia was a turning point.

“It helped my confidence,” said Holmqvist. “I know that I can win big games against good competition.

“It probably helped my chances of coming over here, too.”

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Despite not having one guy shoulder the load in goal, Tampa Bay has had another good season. The Lightning were tied for first in the Southeast Division with Atlanta heading into Monday’s games.

Coach Tortorella is eager for the cream of his goaltending crop to reveal himself.

Holmqvist has 23 wins and 40 appearances while Denis has 16 victories and appearances in 37 games. A bad goal here or there has led to each guy getting pulled a few times this season.

While that seems like it might create a tense situation, both goalies say it hasn’t been that way at all.

“We work well together,” said Denis. “When you get two hard-working goalies it pushes everyone in practice. It’s a great relationship.

“We both understand the situation. It’s nothing personal, we both just want to play.”

Said Holmqvist: “It’s been tough competition, but it’s good for the team.”

The Lightning players agree.

They appreciate that the goalies haven’t made their constant rotation a problem or a distraction. It’s been a supportive situation.

“Marc is helping (Holmqvist) quite a bit,” said forward Andreas Karlsson, who played with Holmqvist for Sweden at the worlds. “They’re pushing each other and cheering for each other.”

Denis, who was acquired in a trade from Columbus last summer, has some extra incentive to come out on top.

The 29-year-old has appeared in over 300 NHL games but has yet to get a start in the playoffs. The closest he ever got was sitting on the bench and backing up Patrick Roy with the Colorado Avalanche early in his career.

“I never played a second,” Denis recalled. “I only stepped on the ice for warmups and post-game celebrations.

“I can’t wait to get the chance. That’s my main motivation. That’s why I want to win this job.”