TAMPA — It's bad enough for the Lightning that top-pairing D Anton Stralman is out indefinitely after fracturing his left leg Friday night.
But Tampa Bay also had to enter Saturday's first-place showdown with the Panthers without one of its top scorers, RW Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov, second on the team with 29 goals, suffered an apparent left foot injury blocking a shot in Friday's third period against the Islanders. He skated gingerly in warmups Saturday but did not play. The Lightning said Kucherov was day to day with a lower-body injury.
"We'll have to see on this one," coach Jon Cooper said. "It was tough he wasn't able to go. Now we've got to wait this one out."
LW Joel Vermin was brought up from AHL Syracuse on an emergency recall (over RW Jonathan Drouin, who has seven goals in eight games with the Crunch since returning from his suspension, including one in a 3-1 win over Rochester on Saturday). Vermin was a healthy scratch. The rookie played in six games with the Lightning this season before fracturing a hand in December. He returned to Syracuse in late February.
The Lightning was already without veteran C Valtteri Filppula (upper body), who missed his sixth game, and RW Ryan Callahan (lower body), who was out for a fourth straight game. Both took part in the morning skate. There is no guarantee they'll be ready by Monday to face the Maple Leafs. "I was hoping they could play before this," Cooper said. "Unfortunately, the longer this goes on, the tougher it gets."
STEPPING UP: With Stralman out for the rest of the regular season and likely at least the first round of the playoffs, D Slater Koekkoek was recalled from Syracuse. Koekkoek, 22, a 2012 first-round draft pick, has impressed in previous callups, including six games this season. Koekkoek was chosen over the likes of Luke Witkowski, a right-handed shot. Koekkoek played just 5:57 in Saturday's 5-2 loss and was minus-1.
The Lightning went with seven defensemen and 11 forwards Saturday, which made sense considering it was playing the second of back-to-back games and defensemen had to carry a heavy load Friday after Stralman got hurt in the first period.
Managing minutes is key in handling the absence of Stralman, who averaged 22:50. "There's a couple theories," Cooper said. "There's a theory of, 'The more you play, the better you are.' Then there's the theory of, 'Time has proven this is a good amount of minutes for this type of player.' "
D Victor Hedman took Stralman's spot on the first power-play unit and played 22:13.
STRALMAN SPIRITS: Stralman hadn't been available to the media since Friday's injury, but teammates said he was in good spirits. "He's a calm Swedish guy," said Hedman, Stralman's partner. "He's a very positive guy, and I think that's going to help him."
NUTS AND BOLTS: G Ben Bishop gave up four goals Friday for the ninth time this season, but it was the first time he won, 7-4 (1-6-2). … C Tyler Johnson scored and has goals in back-to-back games for just the second time this season (Feb. 3-5). He had seven shots. … C Steven Stamkos played 23:13 and had a game-high eight shots.