UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Lightning's past two games have been really rough on center Nate Thompson.
Not because he was being cross-checked in front of the net or hammered into the boards. Not because he was being stung by blocked shots or the odd slash. But because he wasn't.
Thompson was in the press box, sitting out a two-game league suspension for a head shot on New Jersey's Matt D'Agostini while his team continued a mini resurgence that, at 3-0-1, includes points in four consecutive games.
"You want to be part of it," Thompson said. "That's probably the most disappointing thing."
Thompson gets back at it tonight against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. And with Tampa Bay on Sunday facing the Capitals, who enter today leading the Southeast Division, in the second of back-to-back games that, if won, could be a jumping-off point to a real playoff race, the timing is perfect.
"He's so important," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "He plays tough minutes. He plays against the first lines of the other team. He can hit. He just brings that leadership role."
Not that Thompson, 28, gets much credit outside the team. What he does usually is under the radar and out of the headlines.
Thompson, 6 feet, 212 pounds, is physical; he is tied with defenseman Keith Aulie with a team-best 68 hits. He blocks shots; he is second among Lightning forwards with 25. He is a primary penalty killer; his average 2:31 of penalty-kill time is tied for second on the team.
He has won 50.8 percent of his faceoffs and against the Capitals will line up against superstar Alex Ovechkin, who in his past seven games with Thompson as shadow has just two goals and four points, and is minus-4.
But Thompson, who averages 14:52 of playing time, grinds on the ice more than he styles. And though his seven goals extrapolate over an 82-game schedule to a career-best 17, they are workmanlike rather than flashy.
"There's no question he's a guy who helps you win games but won't have his picture in the paper," coach Jon Cooper said. "But those are the guys you win with. You need to surround your guys that do get their picture in the paper with guys who don't and don't care. That's what he is."
"I pride myself on little things," Thompson said. "If I can block a shot or whatever it may be, just the little things that maybe can save a goal or lift the team's spirits or whatever it is during a game, I'm all for it."
On March 23, the organization rewarded Thompson with a four-year, $6.4 million contract extension through 2016-17.
For Cooper, though, how Thompson played March 24 against the Jets — two shots, three hits, two blocks, plus-1 and 10-for-17 on faceoffs in a 3-2 loss — was more noteworthy.
"All he did," Cooper said, "was come out and be arguably the best player on the ice for us."
"You don't want to be the guy who signs a contract and goes on cruise control after that," said Thompson, acquired in January 2010 off waivers from the Islanders. "You want to work hard and keep getting better. That's always been my mentality."
HEDMAN HURTING: Defenseman Victor Hedman is day-to-day with an undisclosed lower-body injury sustained in the first period of Thursday's 5-0 victory over the Hurricanes. Matt Taormina, 26, was called up from AHL Syracuse. Taormina had four goals, 17 assists, 19 penalty minutes and was plus-6 in 50 games with the Crunch.
Lightning at Islanders
When/where: 7; Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
TV/radio: Fox Sports Florida; 970-AM
Key stats: The Lightning has lost four straight at the Coliseum (0-3-1) while being outscored 16-6. … Tampa Bay's power play is on a 2-for-32 streak. … W Marty St. Louis has points (five goals, 17 assists) in 14 of his past 17 games. … New York is 7-2-1 against the Southeast Division. … Islanders D Andrew MacDonald entered Friday third in the league with 97 blocked shots.