PITTSBURGH — For those who like redemption stories, Steve Downie's contributions Monday in Game 6 of the Lightning's Eastern Conference quarterfinal provided a perfect outline.
He scored the winning goal in a 4-2 victory over the Penguins that pushed the series to tonight's deciding Game 7. He had two assists and two shots, and got praise from coach Guy Boucher.
All that came two games after Downie was sidelined by a one-game league suspension for a Game 3 hit on defenseman Ben Lovejoy that rekindled memories of his reckless, volatile past, and after a season in which his production slipped, in part because of the lingering pain of a December high ankle sprain.
But Downie, though calling Monday's goal "the biggest of my career," was in no mood for making the game a referendum on his season.
"It was a great game, but we have to put it behind us," he said. "We still have to play Game 7."
Downie gave a similar response when asked if the game was vindication after his suspension.
"I put that behind me, too," he said.
That Downie can be a good player is too easily overlooked because of the baggage he carries and his 379 penalty minutes over the past two seasons.
He was drafted 29th overall in 2005 by the Flyers, had five goals and 12 points for Canada in 12 world junior championship games, and last season for Tampa Bay had career bests of 22 goals, 24 assists and 46 points.
Battling an injury that this season caused him to miss 22 games, Downie, 24, from Newmarket, Ontario, slipped to 10 goals and 32 points.
Even so, "everyone underestimates his talent," teammate Ryan Malone said. "He has that gritty game that we need, but he's strong on the puck. He makes the little plays out there that go unnoticed by the average fan, but as teammates we see what a big-game player he is."
Said Boucher, "He's really smart with the puck. I also like the way he's controlled his emotions. We all know it's something he's been really working hard to do. It's tough because he was always asked to be extremely emotional and physical, and I know they're trying to get to him on the other side."
Monday, Downie got to the opposition by getting to the net and converting Vinny Lecavalier's pass for the winning goal.
"But you can't think about the individual stuff," Downie said. "We had to win, and we did. We won, and that's all that matters."