NEW YORK — Coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning's mantra during the playoffs has been to stay alive so its injured regulars won't have already played their last game of the season.
It sounds like Tampa Bay will have to advance to the Eastern Conference final for D Anton Stralman (fractured leg) and RW J.T. Brown (upper body) to return.
Cooper said Friday he'd be shocked if Brown plays in the second-round series against the Islanders. And Stralman, who reached the six-week mark of his recovery Friday, has been all but ruled out for Sunday's Game 5 at Amalie Arena.
"This one is a little baffling to me," Cooper said of Stralman's injury. "I was hoping way back when this series was starting … (Friday's Game 4) or the next one he'd come back."
Stralman hasn't suffered a setback, Cooper said. His return is just taking longer than originally thought.
"It's a tough injury," Cooper said.
Stralman has been skating either on his own or with the team the past two weeks, including Friday's optional morning skate. Stralman has yet to participate in a full team skate, though, and hasn't appeared to go through contact drills.
Brown, out since getting hurt in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Red Wings, progressed to skating with a full stick the past few days, including taking one-timers Friday morning.
Captain Steven Stamkos (blood clot) also skated Friday, albeit in a red noncontact jersey. He'd have to be taken off blood thinners to return. Stamkos, expected to be out one to three months, reached the one-month mark from his surgery Wednesday.
CARLE RETURNS: The Lightning's blue line got a boost Friday with the return of D Matt Carle, who had missed two games with an undisclosed injury.
Carle didn't play with usual playoff partner Victor Hedman, who remained with Braydon Coburn. Carle was paired with Slater Koekkoek, who was playing in his third straight game. That allowed Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr to get back together.
"You get more nervous watching than you do playing," Carle said. "So it's not fun to have to watch."
D Luke Witkowski made his playoff debut as the Lightning went with seven defensemen again. He played just 2:14 but was plus-1. Defensemen Nikita Nesterov and Matt Taormina were scratched.
BIEBER MADNESS: With pop star Justin Bieber playing concerts at the Islanders' Barclays Center on Wednesday and Thursday, several Lightning players took the opportunity to see one of his shows.
Nine players — including C Tyler Johnson, LW Ondrej Palat, C Cedric Paquette and RW Mike Blunden — attended Wednesday's performance and gave it solid reviews. C Vladislav Namestnikov, jokingly dubbed the "Russian Bieber" on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show in October, fittingly went wearing a Bieber shirt.
"I like his music," RW Jonathan Marchessault, 25, said. "His new album is pretty good. He's one of the (stars) of our generation."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.