Pain is just part of life in the NHL for Tampa Bay Lightning players

The Lightning’s Steve Downie, left, yells at the referee after fighting the Kings’ Willie Mitchell as part of his painful game.

Associated Press

The Lightning’s Steve Downie, left, yells at the referee after fighting the Kings’ Willie Mitchell as part of his painful game.

LOS ANGELES — Coach Guy Boucher said it was a "miracle," given Steve Downie's stiff back, the Lightning right wing played Thursday night against the Kings.

"And it's a miracle," Boucher added, "he played that hard."

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that Downie, who seemed always in the middle of what was a physical 1-0 loss at the Staples Center, is not expected to play tonight against the Sharks at the HP Pavilion in San Jose as Tampa Bay wraps up a four-game western road trip.

Downie, clearly a Kings target, was cross-checked, punched in the back of the head and fought Willie Mitchell near the end of the rough-and-tumble contest Boucher called "a man's game."

"Something," Boucher said, "had to give."

Downie is the latest addition to the Lightning's ever-expanding injury list, which is made up of nine players with issues that could prevent them from playing tonight.

Also expected not to play tonight are defenseman Victor Hedman, in a walking boot with a bruised right foot, and left wing Simon Gagne, who has missed six games with a neck strain.

Then there are those who are hurt but might tolerate the discomfort to play:

• Left wing Marty St. Louis, whose bruised left big toe was so swollen with blood before Thursday's game, he twice had it drained by a needle through his toenail so he could get into his skate.

• Center Nate Thompson, limping with a knee problem.

• Left wing Sean Bergenheim, limping with a left-foot bruise.

• Defenseman Matt Smaby, bruised right foot.

• Left wing Mattias Ritola, ill.

• Center Dominic Moore, who has missed four games with a groin strain.

Still, only Gagne, Hedman, Smaby and Moore sat out against the Kings, who won on Justin Williams' goal with 5:20 left in the third period off a defensive-zone turnover by defenseman Mathieu Roy.

Why push oneself?

"You can't compare sitting in the stands with a boo-boo and being in a battle with the boys," said St. Louis, who has played in 402 consecutive games and described the needle through his toenail as "a dentist experience; pain to make you feel better. … You don't want to miss a battle with the boys."

"It was a big game," Downie said of the matchup between division leaders. "You have to put the pain behind you."

And that is where the Lightning walks a fine line.

Head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said coaches never force players on the ice and will keep players off if it is determined an injury could get worse by playing.

If not, it's all about how much pain a player can stand.

As for the notion the team's style of play, which features relentless motion and stresses shot blocking, has something to do with the rash of injuries, it is a nonissue, Boucher said.

"To me, it's like we're going outside. I can fall down the stairs and hurt myself, or I could sit on my couch and a lamp falls on my head," he said. "I believe we're going to go out and create a culture. That's our No. 1 plan, and we're creating it now.

"Our guys are pushing. They're pushing hard."

As Downie said when told Boucher said he is out of tonight's game: "We have some evaluating to do, but, no, I never rule myself out."

Pain is just part of life in the NHL for Tampa Bay Lightning players 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 1:55pm]

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