TAMPA — As much as his back and neck hurt in the past week, RW Steve Downie said it also bothered him to have to sit at home during three recent Lightning games due to injury.
"Watching the games on TV at my house was probably the worst feeling I've had this year," he said. "It's not fun."
That's why Downie was excited to return to the lineup for Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Wild, giving a much-needed boost to the injury-depleted Lightning, which is already missing two of its top six forwards (captain Vinny Lecavalier and wing Simon Gagne).
Downie rejoined the first line, with Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, logging 19 minutes. And though coach Guy Boucher said Downie picked up too many stick penalties (two of the three were slashing and tripping) he said the wing played well.
Downie said while he's not 100 percent, he feels good enough to compete at his typically physical level with "no restrictions." The team kept Downie home as a precaution late last week to see if the neck pain he was experiencing was related to his back injury or if it was a potential concussion.
"That was the main thing, the head," Downie said. "When I passed the neuropsych test, that was a big relief."
C Dana Tyrell also returned after missing one game due to a flulike illness that had been going around the team. But D Matt Smaby and C Marc-Antoine Pouliot were scratched.
Boucher said one of the toughest things about the Lightning's continuing injuries and illnesses is how they disrupt team cohesion, as different players are shifting roles, especially on the special teams units.
"Our power play and our penalty kill have been part of our bread and butter since the beginning of the year," Boucher said. "And one of the reasons is because it's a team within the team, and guys are used to each other. So what's happening right now is guys are trying to get used to each other in a new way. That takes a bit of time."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Lecavalier will have surgery today in Cleveland to expedite the recovery of the fractured big knuckle of his right index finger.
Lecavalier said the procedure, to be performed by orthopedist Tom Graham of the Cleveland Clinic, could have him ready to return in the planned timetable of 3-5 weeks.
"He's a great surgeon," Lecavalier said. "I'm confident."
Lecavalier was placed on the injured reserve list retroactive to Thursday. Boucher said that had Lecavalier not decided to have the surgery, the captain would be out 6-8 weeks.
"By doing that, it could be 3-5 (weeks) instead of 6-8," Boucher said. "As you all know, him coming back could be the difference between us making the playoffs and not."
Not just yet: Boucher said Gagne (neck) is making strides, having skated "hard" for two straight days, though he still has yet to be cleared to practice with the team. Gagne's return date is still uncertain, but head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said his focus issues are much improved.
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