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Steve Downie returns for Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA — RW Steve Downie returned to the lineup Friday night against the Hurricanes, giving the Lightning a much-needed boost.

Downie, a top-six forward who had missed nine games with knee and high-ankle problems on his right leg, said it was difficult being sidelined with his team struggling.

"I don't like sitting out, and I think everyone knows that," he said. "It's probably the toughest thing in hockey for me, to sit out and watch the team go play hard teams. It's painful. But hopefully it's the best for my ankle and come down the stretch I'll be ready to go."

Downie said the ankle, which had also bothered him earlier this season, feels stronger and "more powerful." He did a lot of work in the pool and on the treadmill and exercise bike, but he said there's no replacement for skating.

Considering he resumed practicing just this week, coach Guy Boucher said Downie wouldn't be at his best and would have to manage his ice time Friday. Downie played 12:25, had one shot and was charged with a 10-minute misconduct penalty midway through the third period.

"It comes down to doing the little things right and keeping it simple as much as possible," Downie said.

Boucher was looking forward to having Downie back for what the forward brings in board battles and how he complements a line with C Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. "He brings energy, he brings drive, physicality," Boucher said. "And he makes that Stamkos and St. Louis line click a lot more. And that's a lot."

The Lightning should get back another top-six forward, W Ryan Malone (mid-body injury), next week. Boucher said Malone is "perfect to go" but needs more conditioning.

MEDICAL MATTERS: The Lightning got encouraging news on D Randy Jones (high left ankle sprain). Boucher said his recovery is a week ahead of schedule, meaning there's a chance he could be back before the playoffs. Jones' original rehabilitation timetable was four to six weeks, which would have brought him back April 11. But he got on the ice Friday.

"He was one of our top guys," Boucher said. "Jones was playing against the first lines before he got injured. When you lose a guy that plays against first lines, you obviously lose a lot."

MILESTONE WATCH: RW Adam Hall played in his 500th career game, but he said what will mean more is if he plays a lot more in the playoffs.

"It's nice to have something like this when you take a second and take a step back and appreciate it," Hall said. "A lot of things are more important to me than this, like making the playoffs. We've got a lot of exciting moments coming up that I'm looking forward to."

odds and ends: C Mattias Ritola was scratched due to a lower-body injury. D Matt Smaby and D Marc-Andre Bergeron were also scratched. Tampa Bay went with 12 forwards.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Steve Downie returns for Tampa Bay Lightning 03/25/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 1:14am]

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