All of the offense in the world mattered just a bit to the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night.
Instead, it was the loss of defenseman Anton Stralman that weighed heavily on the Bolts.
Stralman, who pairs with Victor Hedman on the team’s top defensive line, broke the fibula in his left leg in a 7-4 victory over the New York Islanders. The injury will certainly cost Stralman the rest of the regular season. The team hopes he can return for the playoffs.
“His season isn’t over,” said coach Jon Cooper. “Put it that way.”
This season, the Lightning has transformed into a defensive team, due in a large part to Stralman. Without him, Victor Hedman had to play 25:36, Matt Carle 24:27, Jason Garrison 20:58 and Braydon Coburn 18:18. Still, the Islanders scored four, and twice scored immediately after a Lightning goal.
“I feel for him,” said Steven Stamkos, who scored his 35th goal. “Hopefully, it’s something that isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, and we can get him back sooner rather than later. He’s an elite defenseman in this league. He’s not only a great player for us but a great guy in the room. We’re going to miss him.”
Garrison was on the ice at the time that Stralman was injured and didn’t realize he had fallen, his skate caught in the ice until he turned. “It’s a huge loss for us,” Garrison said. “He does so much for us. He skates well, he moves the puck well; he plays a lot of minutes, the power play and the penalty kill. We have some big shoes to fill.”
The Bolts scored in clusters themselves Friday night. In the first period, they scored two goals in a nine-second span (Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov). In the third, they scored two in a 23-second span (Tyler Johnson and Garrison). Also scoring was Stamkos, Andrej Sustr and Victor Hedman.
The victory gave the Lightning a virtual the lead in the Atlantic Division, but tonight’s game against Florida will be for the division lead.