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Tampa Bay Lightning's Steve Downie adds new wrinkle to tough guy routine: scoring goals

Steve Downie celebrates at the bench after his 20th goal of the season tied the score at 2 in Tuesday’s OT win against Carolina.

Associated Press

Steve Downie celebrates at the bench after his 20th goal of the season tied the score at 2 in Tuesday’s OT win against Carolina.

BOSTON — Steve Downie is tired of talking about penalty minutes. They are part of his game, the Lightning right wing said; always have been, always will be.

Now, if you want to discuss scoring goals, well, how much time do you have?

Downie will tell you how he goes out 15 to 20 minutes before practice, when the ice is fresh, just to shoot pucks; about how coach Rick Tocchet works with him to improve his body and stick positioning; about their video sessions that help him better think the game.

No surprise, then, that when Downie, 22, became just the fifth player since 1992-93, and the first since Theo Fleury in 2001-02, with 20 goals and 200 penalty minutes in a season, his mind went in one direction.

"I wanted to score 20 goals. That was a goal of mine," he said. "The penalty minutes, they always come."

So, it was up to others to put it all in perspective.

"A phenomenal year," assistant coach Adam Oates said. "Putting his body through that is one of the reasons he has 20 goals."

Think of it this way, Tocchet said: "If you consistently go to the net and push and shove the defensemen," you will get penalties, but "guys also will back off. … That's why Downs scores that goal in front of the net."

Downie's 20th, on a third-period deflection, tied the score at 2 in Tuesday's 3-2 overtime victory over the Hurricanes.

But as much as has gone into honing Downie's skills — his previous high was six goals, in 2007-08 for the Flyers — just as much has been invested quieting his on-ice volatility, which has led to suspensions in juniors, the AHL and NHL.

"When you play with that kind of fire, it's a line," Oates said. "You're on full tilt the whole time. Those are guys who can get themselves into trouble, even if it's not on purpose. We monitor that all the time."

"They just know the way to handle me," Downie said of Tocchet and Oates. "When I get emotional, they settle me down. They talk to me, try to keep me focused on the right things."

Tocchet especially understands Downie. He played a similarly tough game, and in 1992-93 for the Penguins had 48 goals and 252 penalty minutes.

"You have to talk to him every day," Tocchet said. "I hate to use the father-son kind of thing, but he needs that contact. You have to stay with him and just keep teaching him."

"Don't get me wrong, I've gotten heated," Tocchet said of the bench dynamic. "I've grabbed him and said 'settle down,' but most of the time before the kettle starts to boil. You try to get him when he's lukewarm. He's really trying to understand what we're trying to tell him."

Downie, acquired last season from Philadelphia in the Matt Carle deal, consistently skates away from confrontations and, for the most part, has avoided retaliation penalties.

Is he perfect? Hardly, and in a game such as tonight's playoff-chase biggie with the Bruins at TD Garden, there will be plenty of opportunities to explode.

"I'm an emotional player," Downie said. "I play off emotions. I don't think I can change that."

As long as he channels it in the right way, Tocchet said. Such as challenging Dion Phaneuf after the Maple Leafs big man threw a punch at star, linemate and friend Steven Stamkos.

"He's fearless," Stamkos said of Downie. "He'll fight anyone in the league. He'll stick up for himself and his teammates. Guys respect that."

And that was before he had 20 goals.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steve Downie adds new wrinkle to tough guy routine: scoring goals 03/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 25, 2010 12:01am]
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