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Call Tampa Bay Lightning's Steve Downie and Ryan Malone protectors, not enforcers

You just can't allow an opponent to hit your star players; it's as simple as that, Lightning left wing Ryan Malone said.

That is why during Tampa Bay's victory over the Sabres on Tuesday, Malone squared off with Robyn Regehr, who had crushed captain Vinny Lecavalier with a bruising, but clean, check.

You can't let an opponent threaten a teammate, Steve Downie said. That is why in the same game, the right wing traded blows with Patrick Kaleta.

To call either player an enforcer is a stretch — "I don't think either of us is taking that title," Downie said — but on a team without a true heavyweight, Downie and Malone are as close as it gets.

"They're not scared of anyone," center Steven Stamkos said. "They're going to protect their teammates. That's the kind of guys they are."

Malone, 31, is 6 feet 4, 219 pounds. Downie, 24, is 5-11, 191.

Malone fought Florida's Erik Gudbranson on Oct. 17 in retaliation for Gudbranson, one game earlier, instigating a fight with Downie. Downie hung in with the 6-4, 195-pounder, but Malone believed Gudbranson crossed a line.

Malone also went after Montreal's P.K. Subban in the preseason for slashing Lecavalier in March of last season and acting as if he was hurt when Lecavalier retaliated.

Downie's bout with Kaleta, in defense of rookie Brett Connolly, was said by teammates to have changed the momentum of what turned into a 4-3 Lightning win.

"We're both willing," Downie said of himself and Malone. "But we need to play the game first, win the game first. But there's always those times in games where something needs to be taken care of."

"I don't mind doing that," Malone said. "I did it (when he was with the Penguins from 2003-08), sticking up for my teammates. You want to play the game honestly, but if guys are going after your star players, you have to make sure they're held accountable."

It seems a precarious undertaking. You get punched and then are lost to the team for however many penalty minutes.

The benefits? Festering scores are settled, and in the Sabres game, emotions were expended and the contest went on in relative harmony.

You also get much respect from teammates, and it's great for team chemistry.

"It does a lot for everybody," Lecavalier said. "It just brings guys together."

"But it has to serve a purpose of the team at that particular moment," coach Guy Boucher said. "When Vinny got hit kind of blind side (by Regehr), everybody on the bench stood up, and I knew something was going to happen. You hear guys, and they care, and they make it happen."

Malone's dustup with Regehr really wasn't much of a fight. Malone wrestled him to the ice, and both got roughing penalties. But the point was made.

"He's like an old-school team guy," Lecavalier said. "He's a great leader when he does things like that."

"You're just not allowed to hit your star players," Malone said. "Even if it's a clean hit, you want to make sure they're held accountable. That's the way I've always played. When you see one of your star players get hurt, a person has to deal with some consequences."

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Southeast W L OT Pts GF GA

xWashington 7 1 0 14 31 16

Florida 6 4 0 12 26 25

Tampa Bay 5 4 2 12 33 35

Carolina 4 4 3 11 28 35

Winnipeg 3 6 1 7 26 36

Atlantic W L OT Pts GF GA

Pittsburgh 8 3 2 18 39 28

Philadelphia 6 4 1 13 41 36

New Jersey 4 4 1 9 20 24

N.Y. Rangers 3 3 3 9 20 23

N.Y. Islanders 3 4 2 8 18 23

Northeast W L OT Pts GF GA

Toronto 7 2 1 15 34 32

Buffalo 6 4 0 12 29 22

Ottawa 6 5 0 12 36 43

Montreal 4 5 2 10 29 30

Boston 3 7 0 6 22 25

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central W L OT Pts GF GA

Chicago 6 2 2 14 32 25

Nashville 5 4 1 11 24 26

Detroit 5 4 0 10 22 23

St. Louis 5 5 0 10 26 27

Columbus 1 9 1 3 25 39

Northwest W L OT Pts GF GA

Edmonton 6 2 2 14 21 16

Colorado 6 4 0 12 29 27

Minnesota 4 3 3 11 21 23

Calgary 4 4 1 9 22 23

xVancouver 4 5 1 9 24 29

Pacific W L OT Pts GF GA

Dallas 8 3 0 16 28 23

Los Angeles 6 2 2 14 24 19

San Jose 6 3 0 12 28 21

Phoenix 5 3 2 12 30 30

Anaheim 5 4 1 11 21 25

 x-late game not included; two points for a win, one point for overtime loss.

Late Friday

Edmonton 3, Colorado 1

Calgary 3, St. Louis 1

Saturday

Ottawa 5, N.Y. Rangers 4 (SO)

Florida 3, Buffalo 2

Toronto 4, Pittsburgh 3

Montreal 4, Boston 2

San Jose 3, N.Y. Islanders 2 (OT)

Philadelphia 5, Carolina 1

Tampa Bay 1, Winnipeg 0

Nashville 3, Anaheim 0

Minnesota 1, Detroit 0

Dallas 3, New Jersey 1

Chicago 5, Columbus 2

Phoenix 3, Los Angeles 2 (OT)

Washington at Vancouver, late

Today

Anaheim at Columbus, 6:30

Toronto at Ottawa, 7:30

Los Angeles at Colorado, 8

St. Louis at Edmonton, 8

Call Tampa Bay Lightning's Steve Downie and Ryan Malone protectors, not enforcers 10/30/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 30, 2011 8:54pm]
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