Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning turns injuries into opportunities

BRANDON — For a moment during Friday's practice, it appeared as if the Lightning's ever-growing injury list was about to go from nine to 10.

Wing J.T. Brown cringed as he skated without weight on his right foot after being hit by Radko Gudas' slap shot. It took some time, but Brown eventually wheeled around the ice like his old self, a modicum of good fortune for a team that, when it comes to the health of its players, is either under a dark cloud, snake-bit, dealing with some sort of otherworldly curse or a combination of all three.

Nine players, most in the league, are hurt, including star center Steven Stamkos, left wing Ryan Malone and Victor Hedman, the team's best defenseman and whom coach Jon Cooper said will miss at least a week with a lower-body injury sustained in Thursday's 3-1 win over Ottawa. "We're just not getting a break. They just keep coming and coming," Cooper said. "Eventually, it's got to stop, right?"

Tampa Bay should get Gudas (upper body) and defenseman Eric Brewer (lower body) back tonight against the Jets at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Two out of nine — that's a start.

Actually, you have to give the Lightning some credit. Seven of its injuries have occurred since Nov. 11 at Boston, when Stamkos went down with a broken right leg. In the 11 games since, Tampa Bay is 5-5-1.

Part of that has been superb goaltending from Ben Bishop, who played nine of those games and was 4-3-1 with a 1.76 goals-against average and .942 save percentage. But a big part has been Tampa Bay's kids.

Between its commitment to building from within the organization and forced callups to deal with the injuries, the Lightning has nine roster players with 50 NHL games or fewer and 13 who have not played 82 games, the equivalent of a full season.

"Somebody goes down, it (stinks), it hurts, but it's an opportunity for somebody to step up and show they belong in the NHL," Cooper said. "It's accelerating the growth of a lot of players, so eventually … we're probably going to be a better team down the road for what's happened here."

There also is this: "Guys have rallied around each other," Cooper said. "In a weird way, it probably pulled our team a little closer together. It's cool to be part of this. Now, I don't wish it on anybody, but guys are growing."

And taking cues from the leadership group. "Just lead by example, stay upbeat," captain Marty St. Louis said of his marching orders. "Sometimes it's tough, but you have to be enthusiastic." The main thing, he said, is to stay out of survival mode, which is limiting. "You get into survival mode, I don't think you're giving yourself a chance," he said. "You've got to keep pushing, finding ways."

"It's like any adversity," right wing B.J. Crombeen said. "Any time you go through adversity, it makes you stronger, so that's the way we're trying to approach it, don't give excuses."

And be thankful for small favors. As Brown said of Gudas' shot, "It only stung for a few seconds."

Drouin hurt: Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning's third overall pick in this year's draft, had concussion symptoms after being hit face-first into the glass by Adam Erne, the Lightning's second-round pick this year, in their teams' game in the junior Quebec league Friday. Drouin was to be re-evaluated today.

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