MONTREAL — The Lightning held its collective breath Sunday when captain Steven Stamkos had to leave Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series after taking what seemed an inadvertent knee to the head from Montreal D Alexei Emelin.
The play happened with 3:51 left in the second period after Stamkos got tied up with Montreal LW Brandon Prust and fell to the ice. It seemed Emelin tried to avoid Stamkos but plowed over him.
Stamkos went to the dressing room but was back on the bench for the third period.
"It was just a weird play," Stamkos said. "I didn't feel quite right. Obviously, I was good enough to come back in. We'll see how it goes (today)."
Stamkos would not say if he went through the concussion detection protocols. The Montreal CTV network affiliate reported Stamkos said he did have a headache but told the medical staff he wanted to get back in the game.
"I tried to shake it off," Stamkos said in a separate interview. "Games like this, you don't want to miss any time. I want to be out there as much as I can to help our team win."
Coach Jon Cooper said the plan was to give Stamkos, who missed 45 games this season with a broken right tibia, one shift to see how he reacted.
"I can't comment on the particulars," Cooper said. "For a coach, it's can the player go or can he not? We take every precaution on the side of the player not playing. But everyone said he's good to go, Steven said he's good to go, and he got stronger as the game went on, so he was fine."
The blow to the head, which Cooper said had "no malicious intent," was part of a difficult stretch of 2:32 in which Tampa Bay had a goal disallowed, saw its captain go down and fell behind 2-1 on a Brendan Gallagher goal.
"I was happy I could finish," Stamkos said. "We'll see (today)."
PALAT BACK: Ondrej Palat, who had a team-best 59 points in the regular season, was back in the lineup for the 3-2 loss after leaving in the third period of Game 1 with an upper-body injury. On a line with Stamkos and W Tyler Johnson, the rookie, as one would suspect, was a bit of a marked man. Montreal coach Michel Therrien said the key to wearing him down was to play him physically and hinted the Canadiens "know where he is injured." Palat, though, had a goal, four shots and a team-most five hits in 19:06 of ice time. "I felt great," he said.
MORE CHANGES: D Sami Salo was a late scratch because of what the team called an upper-body injury. … D Mark Barberio became the 11th Lightning player to make his NHL playoff debut. Wings B.J. Crombeen and Tom Pyatt also played for the first time in the series.
MEETING MEANING: Stamkos did not go into much detail about what was said during the team meeting held after Friday's 4-1 Game 2 loss. He did reveal that the players who spoke had playoff experience, such as himself, Callahan, D Eric Brewer and C Nate Thompson.
"It's tough to get to these playoffs," Stamkos said. "We can't take that for granted. We had to put that in perspective a little bit for everyone in this room, ourselves included. We have to start acting like we're here and we're here for a reason."
Stamkos acknowledged before Game 3 the team had not played to the style or level it had reached during the regular season: "We're trying to stay confident in here, trying to stay light and have some fun. At the end of the day, you worked so hard to get here, let's enjoy the moment and embrace it."
ETC.: Defensemen Keith Aulie and Mike Kostka, forwards Richard Panik and Nikita Kucherov, and G Ben Bishop (elbow) also were scratched.