Steven Stamkos injury overshadows Lightning loss

Steven Stamkos plays a little more than one period against the Predators before leaving with an upper-body injury and not returning. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times)
Steven Stamkos plays a little more than one period against the Predators before leaving with an upper-body injury and not returning. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published April 1 2018

TAMPA — Let's get to the most important news first, shall we?
And be warned, Lightning fans. You might want to read this through the cracks of your fingers.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos appeared to have reaggravated a lower-body injury — one that kept him out of a game last week — in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Predators.

Here we go again. Playoffs looming and Stamkos is dealing with something. That's just what the Lightning needs, eh?

What exactly is the injury? The Lightning wasn't saying. How bad is it, and how long will Stamkos be out? Again, the Lightning wasn't saying. It should know more today.

WATCH: Highlights from the Lightning-Predators game.

But clearly if you're a Lightning fan, that's not exactly the thing you want to hear in the final week of the regular season, especially with critical playoff positioning still up for grabs.

Perhaps the injury isn't serious. Stamkos was seen after the game walking through the locker room in a suit, and for what it's worth, he showed no outward sign of injury. But he skated off the ice slowly after his first shift of the second period and never returned. He appeared to get tangled up with Nashville's Austin Watson and tweaked his left leg.

Just add that bummer news to a season that once held so much promise but now feels off-kilter and on the rocks. The regular season is coming to a wobbly end, and unless the Lightning can hit the reset button before the approaching postseason, it will be left to wonder just how this whole thing spiraled out of control.

Now, to be fair, the Lightning is still in a spot that practically every team in the NHL would kill for. It has the third-best record in hockey and still could end up being the top seed in the Eastern Conference before it's all said and done.

But Sunday didn't help at all.

If the Stamkos news wasn't bad enough, first place in the Atlantic Division — and home-ice advantage in a potential second-round series against the Bruins — looks to be slipping away after what turned to be an awful Easter Day for Tampa Bay.

It started in the afternoon when the Bruins salvaged a point in the standings by scoring with less than four seconds left in regulation in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers. That point gave Boston a two-point lead over the Lightning for first in the division.

Then the Lightning went out Sunday night and skated stride for stride with the best team in hockey. Frankly, the Lightning was the better team for most of the night, yet you wouldn't know it by the final score, which wasn't close at all.

"It was definitely not a 4-1 hockey game,'' said Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, who returned after missing five games with an upper-body injury. "There's no question there.''

Callahan is right. The Lightning played well. It trailed 2-1 going into the third period, but Nashville busted open the game with two third-period goals. If the Lightning hadn't had so many shots blocked (20) and hadn't gone 0-for-5 on the power play, perhaps it would have picked up a point or two.

"For 50 minutes I thought we did a lot of good things,'' coach Jon Cooper said.

In the end: good effort, bad result.

"We don't like to lose games, that's the bottom line,'' defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We want to win every game. But we look at the big picture and hopefully there's two, three months left in the season.

"We want to play the right way, and we liked the way we played in the first two periods.''

If there is any solace to be taken from what we've seen from the Lightning of late, it is showing signs of coming out of its funk. It played well in the final two periods of a 4-2 loss at Boston on Thursday and really well in a 7-3 victory the next night against the Rangers.

Then came Sunday night's performance that was pretty decent.

"We've always said we're going to evaluate ourselves on how we're playing, not on wins and losses,'' Callahan said. "That's the way we've treated it all year. There have been wins when we're not happy. There have been losses where we know we liked most of our game.

"It's coming. I'm really happy with our effort and how we're going.''
When asked about whether the psyche of his team was good, Cooper said, "I think so, yeah.''

What was not good was the result of the game. And a day to forget.
Because of it, Tampa Bay remained two points behind the Bruins with one final showdown against Boston at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night. Seeing as how Boston has a game in hand on the Lightning, a Bruins victory in that game pretty much would seal the deal. Tampa Bay would finish second in the division and take on Toronto in the first round of the playoffs.

In the meantime, the Lightning has a great concern: the health of Steven Stamkos.

Predators 1 1 2 4

Lightning 0 1 0 1

First Period—1, Nashville, Johansen 14 (Forsberg), 7:50. Penalties—Irwin, NSH, (high sticking), 3:06; Hedman, TB, (holding), 3:33; Hartman, NSH, (tripping), 12:05.

Second Period—2, Nashville, Forsberg 22 (Saros, Subban), 2:46 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Palat 10 (Stralman), 7:32. Penalties—Palat, TB, (interference), 0:47; Fiala, NSH, (hooking), 12:36; Bitetto, NSH, (holding), 15:57; Smith, NSH, (delay of game), 19:35.

Third Period—4, Nashville, Forsberg 23, 6:24. 5, Nashville, Smith 23 (Ekholm, Subban), 9:29. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Nashville 7-6-12—25. Tampa Bay 12-12-6—30. Power-play opportunities—Nashville 1 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 5. Goalies—Nashville, Saros 10-5-7 (30 shots-29 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 42-17-3 (25-21). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:23. Referees—Dean Morton, Garrett Rank. Linesmen—Kory Nagy, Tony Sericolo.