Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Steven Stamkos out indefinitely with broken tibia

BOSTON

Steven Stamkos was on the ice Monday at TD Garden, pounding it in pain.

He tried to skate but crumpled.

Clearly in agony, the Lightning's star center yanked off his helmet and grabbed and shook the arm of trainer Tommy Mulligan, who had rushed to his side.

"He didn't say too much," teammate Alex Killorn said, "just how much he wanted to get off the ice."

Stamkos broke his right tibia when he crashed into the right post of the Tampa Bay net in the second period of a 3-0 loss to the Bruins.

He was put on a stretcher and went by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital where he will have surgery this morning to repair a displaced fracture.

Stamkos' father, Chris, who saw the game on television at home in Unionville, Ontario, said by phone that he spoke to his son and "he seems to be okay and 'just hopeful the surgery goes well.' "

Chris said he was told it will take about eight weeks for the bone to heal but that rehab could start after a few days. The total recovery time, Chris said he was told, is three to six months, "but they're just guessing," and much depends on what doctors find during surgery.

But Koco Eaton, team orthopedist for the Rays, speaking generally because he doesn't know the specifics, said rehab from tibia surgery can take six to nine months with no weight-bearing activity for eight to 12 weeks.

Given that timetable, Stamkos' season would be over.

"It's a significant injury," Eaton said.

A three-month rehab would end during February's Olympic break, which means playing for Canada at the Sochi Games — beginning Feb. 12 — is unlikely. But that still would leave two months of a season.

"He's a pretty thick guy and works out hard," Chris said. "If I was a betting man, I'd say he will be back playing this year."

• • •

The injury is an enormous blow to the Lightning, which leads the Eastern Conference and seeks its first playoff appearance since 2011.

Stamkos, 23, the No. 1 overall draft pick of 2008, is not only Tampa Bay's best player — his 14 goals and 23 points lead the league — but as goaltender Ben Bishop said, "I think hands down he's the best player in the world," with two NHL goal-scoring titles and 199 career goals that are 34 more than any other player.

"Stammer is playing the best hockey of his career," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "He's a dominant player every night and gone to the next level."

And durable as he has never missed an NHL game because of injury. Since being scratched from a game Jan. 29, 2009, he has played 344 in a row.

Stamkos was hurt doing what he should have been: back-checking hard against Boston's Dougie Hamilton. But as they approached the net at top speed, "He bumped with Dougie Hamilton and got off balance as he tried to stop," Yzerman said.

And the net, which is supposed to come off its moorings, stayed solid for a moment before giving way, adding to the gruesome impact.

Cooper declined to comment on if he believes Hamilton contributed, but Yzerman called it "an unfortunate accident. I don't know what you can do, these things happen."

"It was just an unfortunate play," Hamilton said. "I was just trying to drive the net. He was too fast for me, so he caught me and was in front of me. I don't know what happened. He fell and hit the post pretty hard."

• • •

Stamkos wasn't the only Lightning player hurt Monday as defensemen Sami Salo (lower body) and Keith Aulie (upper body) are questionable for tonight's game at Montreal.

Yzerman could call up players from its first-place AHL affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y. Whatever the plan, saving the season is a challenge.

"There's no sugarcoating it," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's a huge part of our team. You can make an argument here that if you were going to hand out the MVP of the league right now, you'd be hard-pressed not to give it to him. … "We just have to pick ourselves up here and we'll see what we're made of. You talk about a test, this is a test."

"No one is going to replace a guy like Steven Stamkos," center Nate Thompson said. "As a group we have to step up. Some guys have to play bigger roles. We all have to do our job."

Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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