Lightning's Steve Downie now 'calm' man

WASHINGTON -- Sean Bergenheim is describing Tampa Bay Lightning linemate Steve Downie and he is using the term "calm."

We pause to consider not just the incongruousness of the description but also the ability of people to defy our expectations, to redefine themselves, to change.

You see, Bergenheim isn't being ironic, it's not until a reporter suggests the term "calm" is rarely used in conjunction with the combustible Tampa forward that Bergenheim sees anything remotely curious about his description.

"He's one helluva a player. He's an aggressive player. He's in on the forecheck and he hits but I think with the puck, excellent passes," said Bergenheim, who has formed a dynamic trio this spring with Downie and center Dominic Moore.

"I really enjoy playing with him. I definitely see a calmness. I understand people who think like that, but he is one heck of a hockey player,” Bergenheim added.

Eight games into this playoff season and Downie, often the lightning rod for controversy deserved or not over the years, is leading Tampa in scoring with nine points, second-most among all NHL players thus far this spring in spite of the fact he is averaging about half the ice-time that other top players are receiving.

"His hockey sense is a lot better than people think," coach Guy Boucher said. "He makes plays. He doesn't panic when he's got the puck and he's being pressured. I think that's his biggest asset. He can make plays under pressure and that's not everybody. That's a quality that not a lot of guys have."

Not only has Downie contributed, he has contributed in a timely fashion. He has one game winner and in Game 1 of the Lightning's Eastern Conference semifinal series against Washington, he scored a critical tying goal late in the second period when it looked like the Capitals were going to break the game open.

Eight of his nine points have come in his last four games, all Lightning victories. Three of those victories came while facing elimination at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

"It's not a surprise if you ask the guys in our room. A lot of the time, the attention gets swirled around about his past ... the anger part of it, the suspension part of it and all that crap. But he's a great player," explained Downie's close friend and teammate Steven Stamkos.

"Playing against him in juniors, he was always leading his team in scoring. People don't realize the offensive smarts that he has. He's one of the smartest guys on his team when it comes to controlling the puck and making plays and knowing where to be. He's played great for us and stepped up when we needed him. That's why we've been successful thus far in the playoffs. We have everyone stepping up and leaning on each other -- not just leaning toward one or two guys."

It is one thing to try to escape your past but Downie has also had to battle more tangible foes this season in the form of injury.

A high ankle sprain limited Downie to 57 regular-season games and his goal totals dropped from 22 a year ago when he enjoyed a dramatic renaissance as a player to 10 this season.

"Definitely a frustrating year, there's no doubt about it," Downie told a small group of reporters Saturday.

"Going through that injury was tough but this is playoff time, there's no time for hurting. You just got to find a way to put that in the back of your head."

Although Downie did appear in six playoff games with Philadelphia in 2008, his role was vastly different, which makes his performance thus far this playoff year all the more impressive.

"I think my time Philly was a learning experience. I wasn't in the lineup every night so I was there more as an observer and a learner and learned from the guys they had there like [Simon] Gagne. I just took it as an experience and learned a lot from it," Downie said.

As for being the team's leading scorer, Downie downplayed his offensive impact thus far.

"I haven't really thought about production myself. It's about doing the little things. Playing a team game. That's what I've been focusing on and that's what I've been trying to do. I haven't really focused on the points. I try not to," he said. "I wouldn't read too much into me leading the team. I mean might be done tomorrow. We've got too much firepower on this team, I'm not looking to do that."

The transformation from a player often over the line to the one we have seen this spring may be startling, but it does not come without work and it does not come overnight.

"I'll be honest with you, it's been an on-going process since last August. So it's not something that's new. It's something that's progressed in the right direction. Everybody says he's night and day from last year," Boucher said Saturday.

"Everybody says this guy's really gotten a lot better at controlling his emotions. I'm real proud of him. He's not perfect, obviously, because emotional guys sometimes will get out of line and it's normal. Guys like that, you've got to be able to take some of the bad side. It's the same as a skilled player. You love to have those guys but sometimes defensively they aren't exactly what you want and you've got to take the bad side."

"There's very little downside. It's been extremely positive for him personally and it's been very positive for the team. I'm proud of his progress as an individual throughout the course of this year."