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BUFFALO -- Lightning center Brian Holzinger's broken left leg is healed, but piecing his game back together will require small, patient steps during the next several weeks.
It has been that long.
Holzinger played Saturday for the first time in nearly a year. He was sidelined for all but 23 games last season by a shoulder injury and missed the first 20 this season because of the broken leg, sustained during a preseason pickup game.
"The biggest thing for me getting back in the swing of things is handling the puck," said Holzinger, who picked up an assist in 6:35 of ice time against the Devils.
"I fanned on a shot that nine times out of 10 I wouldn't. I just didn't feel comfortable with the puck. But I'm going to take baby steps and be patient. And I know my game will come around, hopefully sooner than later."
Holzinger, who returned a few weeks ahead of schedule, said he was tired of watching the team's early success from the press box.
"It's exciting to play," said Holzinger, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound native of Parma, Ohio. "When you're hurt, you're excluded from the team a little bit, and it was tough to be on the outside looking in. I wanted to try to get back as soon as possible and be a part of the success."
NEW STRATEGY?: The Lightning played most of the third period against Buffalo with just four defensemen. Dan Boyle, Pavel Kubina, Nolan Pratt and Cory Sarich alternated shifts.
Tampa Bay was short-handed after Stan Neckar received a game misconduct for his role in a four-player scrum during the first period, and Jassen Cullimore hurt his left shoulder early in the third.
"It wasn't that bad," coach John Tortorella said of being down two players. "Especially late in the game, their second wind has kicked in. As long as you keep the shifts short, I don't think it affects them that much. I liked the way our defense moved the puck out of our zone, making quick little plays to get the puck out."
The extent of Cullimore's injury was not known.
HE'S BACK AGAIN: Forward Fredrik Modin, plagued injuries during the past year, returned Wednesday after missing four games because of back spasms and scored.
Modin, who also missed the first two games with a groin strain, has played well when healthy (six goals and seven assists in 16 games). The trick is staying healthy.
"It's frustrating," Modin said. "I thought I was really getting into my game and playing good hockey. I don't know what to say. It seems to always be something. But I'm glad I'm back."
ODDS AND ENDS: Forward Alexander Svitov was re-assigned to AHL Springfield to make room on the roster for Modin. ... D Brad Lukowich, who did not play at New Jersey because of a death in the family, will rejoin the team Friday. ... Forwards Chris Dingman and Jimmie Olvestad were healthy scratches.