Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning defense gets Sustr back, loses Stralman for a game

TAMPA — The Lightning has been hit with the injury bug a lot this season. After Tuesday's game against the Bruins, the Lightning had lost 152 man games to injury. Most of those injuries have come at the expense of Tampa Bay's forwards. Lately, however, the defense has taken a hit.

While D Andrej Sustr returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing three games with an upper-body injury, D Anton Stralman missed the game with an undisclosed injury.

Because of Stralman's injury and the uncertainty of Sustr, the Lightning recalled D Luke Witkowski from Syracuse. But by game time Witkowski was sent back to Syracuse with Sustr in the lineup.

Monday, the Lightning recalled D Slater Koekkoek from Syracuse after Braydon Coburn (lower-body injury) got injured against Carolina. Koekkoek was in Tampa Bay's lineup Tuesday.

"We were in pretty good shape and then all of a sudden when it rains it pours," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I don't want to say we're long term banged up back there. We are nicked up, but enough where guys are struggling to play in games. We can't push this. We can't put guys at risk.

"It tests your farm system," Cooper said. "But to pull up the Koekkoeks and the Witkowskis, they've played with us before and we've had success with them before, so there's no worries on our end."

Playing well but…: The Lightning lost Monday but still entered Tuesday as the second-hottest team in the NHL. At one point, Tampa Bay was thinking about just making the playoffs. Now, with 15 games to go after Tuesday, the Lightning has another goal: a division title and home-ice advantage.

"We're trending in the right direction besides (Monday) night," F Ryan Callahan said. "Winning nine in a row, our confidence is there (and) our style of play we need to play is there. We're going in the right direction. There's always areas you want to improve on, but hopefully we're hitting that peak at the right time."

Though Tampa Bay was 30-1-0 when leading after two periods, one of the areas it wants to improve is its killer instinct, captain Steven Stamkos said.

"Last year we get a lead in the third period and it was pretty much game, set, match," Stamkos said. "We had a great stretch last year and even in the playoffs where we were completely shutting down teams in the third. We haven't done that yet. We've let some teams creep back in the game. That's a confidence thing. You get in those situations a little more, you close those games out, you start feeling more comfortable. We're looking to do that."

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