Saturday night was a mixed bag for fans at Amalie Arena in Tampa. They saw their captain, Steven Stamkos, go down during a late first-period power play. Nothing looked amiss until he stood up and took one stride toward the bench. That’s when he grabbed the back of his left leg, slowly skated to the bench, and went to the locker room.
When he didn’t start the second period, concern became the predominant emotion of every Tampa Bay Lightning fan and likely his teammates and coaches.
As should be expected, however, the team dug deep and found a way to beat the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks 3-1.
It was tied at one until there was a minute remaining in regulation. Brayden Point then took a perfect pass from Nikita Kucherov and fired a shot from far out that eluded Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Former Hawk Brandon Hagel added an empty netter with two seconds left to make it 3-1.
Brian Elliott got the start in net and stopped 22 of 23 shots. He was only beaten by former Bolt Taylor Raddysh, with assists credited to former Lightning prospect Cole Guttman and another former player Tyler Johnson.
Head coach Jon Cooper said after the game that Stamkos should be OK and didn’t return mainly as a precaution.
While that certainly sounds promising, his injury history makes this a concern heading into the playoffs. The Lightning saw last year what that can lead to, as Point missed much of their run due to a torn quad. Both Anthony Cirelli and Zach Bogosian also suffered shoulder injuries that required surgery, and the team ultimately fell short in their quest for a three-peat.
Considering all this, the Lightning would be wise to hold Stamkos out tomorrow night against the Winnipeg Jets. Then, if all looks good, have the captain make the trip to New Jersey and use his judgment to decide when he returns to the lineup.
All in all, the Lightning ground out an emotional win and now have to quickly turn the page, with the Jets coming in on Sunday night. Puck drop is set for 7 pm EST.