TORONTO - There's a new NHL super pest, and his name is Steve Downie.
Well, he's not too new. The Tampa Bay winger was a point-per-game player for Team Canada at the 2006 and '07 World Junior Championships. And Ottawa Senators fans will remember him for his pre-season hit on Dean McAmmond in 2007, one that landed Downie a 20-game suspension and McAmmond a serious concussion.
Along the way, Downie also knocked out the teeth of a junior teammate during a fight in practice and received a 20-game American Hockey League suspension for slashing a linesman's leg.
But that's the old Steve Downie. The new Steve Downie is a scorer and a key part of Tampa Bay's hopes to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007, while also being the second-most penalized player in the league with nearly 200 minutes spent in the box. He added four more penalty minutes against the Maple Leafs Thursday night.
"He's played really well this year," said Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, who was a similar type of player during his NHL days. "He plays on the edge; he does a nice job for us. Tonight he scored a big goal for us in front of the net, and that's where he's going to get most of his chances."
That goal was Downie's 17th of the season and tied the game 3-3 five minutes into the third period. The 22-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., is on pace to break the 20-goal and 50-point barriers for the first time in his young career.
Downie has found a home on Tampa Bay's top line, sharing the ice with stars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. He provides the grit to compliment their finesse.
"He's getting an opportunity to play a big role on this team and he's taking advantage of it," said the 20-year-old Stamkos, who scored his 42nd goal of the season versus the Leafs.
Downie was a thorn in the Maple Leafs' side all night long. He and Toronto defenceman Dion Phaneuf had an ongoing battle throughout the game. In overtime, Downie almost set-up Tampa captain Vincent Lecavalier for the winner and battled Leafs blueliner Francois Beauchemin on the same shift.
It's been the same story all year long. Teams around the NHL are finding out that Downie is more than just a hothead or a dirty player. There finding out he's effective, too.
"He's got offensive talent and he's got that edge players respect," Stamkos said. "He creates things for himself, but also for me and Marty (St. Louis) out there. He's fit right in with our line and we're happy to have him."