TAMPA — Rangers coach John Tortorella admitted it was "a little weird" stepping into the visitor's locker room of the St. Pete Times Forum, a place where he led the Lightning for seven years and won a Stanley Cup.
But though Tortorella, fired in 2008 by Tampa Bay, didn't want to say much about his former organization, he praised Lightning coach Rick Tocchet and appears to believe Tampa Bay is in good hands.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Tocchet)," Tortorella said Friday. "Certainly, first as a player, because we all know how he played, and how he handles himself as a coach, I wish him the best. I hope we (beat them Friday), but I wish him the best from there."
Tortorella coached Tocchet while he was an assistant with Phoenix from 1997-99 and said "we've been friends for a long time." Even when Tortorella was out of hockey after his firing, he chatted with Tocchet, and they've even caught up this season.
"He's a good man," Tortorella said. "And the thing I like about him is he's a pretty honest guy."
GETTING CLOSE: D Mattias Ohlund, who missed his sixth straight game with an ankle injury, said he feels a lot better and is close to a return.
"It's one of those injuries where, if you come back too soon, there's a decent chance you'll injure yourself and miss more time," Ohlund said. "So we're trying to make sure that when I do come back, I'm coming back for more than a few games."
SMABY DOWN: D Matt Smaby, who has yet to play an NHL game this season partly because of a crowded blue line, was assigned to AHL Norfolk on a conditioning assignment. Tocchet said it will give Smaby an opportunity to get a lot of minutes playing over the weekend before he rejoins the Lightning.
Though Tocchet said he'd like to play Smaby next week, he acknowledged it would be tough to do that, especially with Ohlund close to a return. "It's unfortunate to get a logjam (on defense)," he said, "but it's actually helped us because we've had two, three guys go down and have had capable defensemen to play for us."
NICE TOUCH: Tortorella was honored in the first period with a video montage on the Times Forum JumboTron. The montage spanned his tenure with the Lightning and included an image of him hoisting the Stanley Cup. It ended with, "Thank you, John, and Welcome Back," and a standing ovation from the crowd.
odds and ends: LW Todd Fedoruk and Ohlund were scratched.