TAMPA — The Lightning came through with a wildly entertaining 7-4 win Friday over the Islanders that propelled it into first place in the Atlantic Division heading into tonight's showdown with the Panthers.
But the victory came with a significant cost. Veteran defenseman Anton Stralman is out indefinitely with a nondisplaced fracture of his left fibula suffered in the first period. Stralman, a top-pairing defenseman with Victor Hedman, is out at least through the final eight games of the regular season and likely into the beginning of the playoffs. He doesn't need surgery.
Coach Jon Cooper said the team's rallying cry is to extend a postseason run so Stralman can come back.
"He's an extremely important part of our team and has been since the day he got here," Cooper said. "Nobody is going to replace him. He's a top defenseman in this league.
"But as we said in our locker room, his season is not over."
Captain Steven Stamkos said that when the injury happened, "it didn't look good." Eight minutes into the game, Stralman got tangled with Islanders center Anders Lee in front of the net on a penalty kill and fell down, his left leg crumpling awkwardly. Stralman had to be helped off the ice.
"That's the last thing I want to see," Lee said. "We were battling in front. Next thing I know, he's down. You hate to see that."
Teammates made sure to reach out to Stralman between periods and after the game. The Swede, 29, was rattled, Cooper said.
"It's a tough loss," defenseman Jason Garrison said. "Big shoes to fill."
With Stralman averaging 22 minutes a night and playing in all situations, replacing him must be a group effort. And Friday was encouraging.
The Lightning scored a season-high seven goals, bailing out goalie Ben Bishop, who gave up four. Tampa Bay tied a franchise record by scoring goals nine seconds apart in the first period, by Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov, to take a 2-1 lead. In the third, Tyler Johnson and Garrison scored 23 seconds apart as the Lightning pulled away for good at 6-4.
"Good teams find a way to dig deep like we did (Friday), but we certainly have to dig a little deeper now," Stamkos said. "Guys are going to need to step up, and (they) have no choice."
There will likely be a callup today. Luke Witkowski, a right-shot defenseman like Stralman, is a possibility, as are left-shots Slater Koekkoek and Matt Taormina. Stralman's injury also means the Lightning will lean more on Hedman, who moved into the top power-play unit after Stralman left the game.
Andrej Sustr, the only other right-shot defenseman, had two points and played 19:58. Matt Carle got a rare opportunity on the second power-play unit.
The Lightning (43-26-5) hasn't clinched a playoff spot.
"Naturally, anybody gets hurt, especially like Anton, it's a stinger," Cooper said. "But you're not going to sit here and say, 'Oh, well, one of our defensemen got hurt, that's it, we're mailing it in.' No way.
"(Stralman) would be the first one to tell you, 'Boys, let's go extend this season so I can come back.' That'll be our goal."
First Period—1, N.Y. Islanders, Nelson 25 (Strome, Bailey), 8:54. 2, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 29 (Killorn, Sustr), 13:42. 3, Tampa Bay, Namestnikov 14, 13:51. Penalties—Garrison, TB (holding), :44; New York bench, served by Tavares (too many men), 3:37; Namestnikov, TB (tripping), 6:50; Johnson, TB (hooking), 10:10.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 35 (Garrison, Kucherov), 5:02. 5, N.Y. Islanders, Prince 5, 5:25. 6, N.Y. Islanders, Boychuk 8 (Tavares, Bailey), 16:18. Penalties—Cizikas, NYI (goaltender interference), 7:26; Strome, NYI (high-sticking), 11:53.
Third Period—7, Tampa Bay, Sustr 3 (Garrison), 6:03. 8, N.Y. Islanders, Kulemin 7 (Nielsen, Hamonic), 6:22. 9, Tampa Bay, Johnson 13 (Palat, Marchessault), 10:09. 10, Tampa Bay, Garrison 5 (Palat, Marchessault), 10:32. 11, Tampa Bay, Hedman 7 (Carle, Palat), 18:35 (en). Penalties—Martin, NYI, misconduct, 18:35; Blunden, TB, misconduct, 18:35. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 12-7-12—31. Tampa Bay 14-17-11—42. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Greiss 19-11-4 (41 shots-35 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 32-19-4 (31-27).