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Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith ready to return from neck strain

TAMPA — G Mike Smith will at least be on the bench Wednesday against the Canadiens after the Lightning on Sunday sent Dustin Tokarksi back to AHL Norfolk.

Tokarski backed up Antero Niittymaki while Smith recovered from a neck strain that kept him out of six games. "I'm getting close," Smith said. "The goal is to be ready for Wednesday."

Even if Smith does not play — and it will be difficult to sit Niittymaki after his superb effort in Saturday's 2-1 shootout victory over the Thrashers — his return is cause for a major sigh of relief.

Smith took himself out of the Jan. 12 game against the Capitals after LW Brooks Laich ran over him. In addition to neck pain, he reported worsening of the black dots that clouded his vision while he recovered last season from postconcussion syndrome and have not disappeared.

That led to speculation Smith had another concussion. But team athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said "floaters" are not necessarily caused by concussions: "There's a jell substance behind the eye called the vitreous. After some sort of head trauma, you can have a separation in that substance, and that will cause what some people term as floaters. That is what he has. Certain things may bring it on, a hit, a collision to the head."

And without dizziness, headaches and nausea, a concussion was not indicated, Mulligan said. Releasing the neck spasm has lessened the floaters: "Your vision center comes from the base of your skull. … A restriction there … can decrease your blood supply. If you decrease your blood supply, you're not going to get the healing you would normally have."

Mulligan said floaters may bother Smith for a while but should not affect his ability to play: "It's something that will come and go. I don't know if there's a true 100 percent correction for it. It's something … the body will try to heal itself."

HELeNIUS TO SWEDEN: In another indication G Riku Helenius' status has fallen, the 15th overall draft pick of 2006 was sent from Norfolk to Sodertalje of the Swedish elite league.

The move creates more playing time for Jaroslav Janus, who will back up Tokarski. It also loosens a three-goalie glut in Norfolk caused in part by Tampa Bay's lack of an ECHL affiliate.

Helenius, 21, who will play out the season under a separate Swedish contract, will have one year left on his Tampa Bay deal. He was 5-7-0 this season with a 2.75 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.

WRONG CALL: RW Marty St. Louis said he could have been called for a penalty Saturday, instead of Atlanta's Pavel Kubina, on a play that gave the Lightning the power play on which it tied the score. Thrashers coach John Anderson said it was a "phantom" call.

"(Kubina) was trying to play defense against (Steven Stamkos), so he's entitled to that ice, and I kind of got in his way," St. Louis said. "I tried to get out of his way, and that's how I opened up and got a knee (to the groin)."

St. Louis took several shifts off. "It's one of those pains, you don't know how to deal with it," he said. "You sit down, you stand up, it hurts. It's all good now."

ODDS AND ENDS: C Nate Thompson played well in his Tampa Bay debut, winning eight of 11 faceoffs and getting generous penalty-kill time. … LW Todd Fedoruk took shifts off after a hit in the groin but returned and seemed fine.

Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith ready to return from neck strain 01/24/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 24, 2010 11:51pm]

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