Injured Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith returns from road trip to Tampa for treatment

A Lightning trainer checks goalie Mike Smith, as defenseman Matt Walker listens in, after the Capitals’ Brooks Laich ran over him in the first period of Tuesday’s game. The team doesn’t believe Smith, who hasn’t skated since leaving that game in the second period, has a concussion. The Lightning says Smith is day-to-day and improving.

DIRK SHADD | Times

A Lightning trainer checks goalie Mike Smith, as defenseman Matt Walker listens in, after the Capitals’ Brooks Laich ran over him in the first period of Tuesday’s game. The team doesn’t believe Smith, who hasn’t skated since leaving that game in the second period, has a concussion. The Lightning says Smith is day-to-day and improving.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Injured Lightning goalie Mike Smith has been sent back to Tampa, but he has not suffered any setbacks and could return to practice Wednesday, team athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said Sunday.

Smith, who strained his neck when he was run over by the Capitals' Brooks Laich on Tuesday, joined the team on its three-game road trip Friday, but once it was decided he wouldn't be ready to play in those games, he flew back Saturday to Tampa, where he's able to get more specialized chiropractic care.

Mulligan said the team still doesn't believe the injury is concussion-related. He said Smith's symptoms continue to be in the neck area, and it's believed the injury is not a "long-term" deal.

"We just don't want this to continue to linger," Mulligan said of Smith, who played seven weeks last season with concussion symptoms before telling the team and ended up needing eight months for recovery..

The Lightning has been saying Smith is day-to-day and has been improving, but he hasn't skated with the team since his most recent injury. Mulligan said Smith could skate in Tampa today. With coach Rick Tocchet saying he'd like to get Smith in a few practices before he considers starting the goalie again, it's unknown when Smith will get back in a game.

Antero Niittymaki, who gave up five goals on 18 shots Saturday in a 5-2 loss to the Panthers, will start tonight against the Hurricanes. "Nitty deserves to play again," Tocchet said. "He had a tough night, and we'll see how he responds."

It's possible Dustin Tokarski, who made his NHL debut in Saturday's third period two days after being called up from AHL Norfolk, could see action, depending on when Smith returns.

When asked if he was more concerned about Smith than he was last week, Tocchet said "You're always concerned every day that goes by, but I hear it's not a concussion thing, so that's nice to know."

In other injury news, defenseman Matt Smaby (concussion) said he's ready to play, and Tocchet said he could be in the lineup tonight. Right wing Todd Fedoruk (lower-body injury) said he's also ready to go.

Downie continues to impress: Tocchet said right wing Steve Downie's recent play has earned him an opportunity to join Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos on the top line. Downie has a career-high in goals (10) and assists (12), and leads Tampa Bay at plus-6.

"Steve Downie deserves to play more," Tocchet said. "He's been one of our better players the last two, three weeks. He's playing with an attitude that I want. He deserves to play, and I want to get him up there."

Injured Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith returns from road trip to Tampa for treatment 01/17/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 12:12am]

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