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Lightning left in limbo by schedule uncertainty

The team returns home since it expects Tuesday’s game at Carolina to be postponed.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save against Blue Jackets forward Alexandre Texier during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday in Columbus. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save against Blue Jackets forward Alexandre Texier during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday in Columbus. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete) [ JAY LAPRETE | AP ]
Published Jan. 24, 2021|Updated Jan. 24, 2021

Unsure when and where their next game will be, the Lightning returned to Tampa after Saturday’s 5-2 loss at Columbus.

As of Saturday night, they were still scheduled to play at the Hurricanes on Tuesday and Thursday, the second leg of a two-city, four-game road trip. But instead of flying to Raleigh, N.C., the Lightning came home with the expectation that Tuesday’s game, at the least, would be postponed because of the Hurricanes’ coronavirus issues.

After five Carolina players landed on the COVID-19 protocol list last week, the Hurricanes’ two-game series against the Panthers was postponed. On Saturday, a sixth player was added to the list, forward Jesper Fast, and the team’s facility remained closed.

The Lightning were awaiting further information from the league Saturday night. Coach Jon Cooper said his team was preparing to play Thursday in Carolina.

“The league’s been pretty good at giving us probabilities of what’s going to go on,” Cooper said. “As of now, we’re going, but ask me that question (today) and I don’t know if I’ll give you the same answer.”

The Lightning have had two of their first four opponents shut down because of virus issues. They had five days off between their second and third games of the season after two games against Dallas were postponed because of a Stars outbreak.

“We’ll have some more time to work out, get stronger and get faster, and make sure that we’re playing our system,” defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. “Obviously it’s bad that we can’t play, like, a normal schedule, but it is what it is, and that’s part of our job now.”

The Lightning’s next scheduled game after the Hurricanes series is Saturday at home against the Predators.

Coleman late scratch

Wing Blake Coleman was a late scratch Saturday, replaced by Mathieu Joseph on the third line.

Cooper said Coleman didn’t play because he was late for a meeting, a violation of a strict team rule.

“Blake is an A-plus kid, and I don’t know if he had alarm clock issues or what happened,” Cooper said. “We have some pretty steadfast rules that we’ve had in place ever since I’ve been here. Nobody feels worse than that poor kid because he’s given everything he’s had for us, and that’s not his style, but he completely understood, and we’ll be back at practice on Monday.”

Coleman spent two days on the COVID-19 protocol list last week, missing two days of practice but no games. He returned to the team Wednesday and scored in a 3-2 overtime win Thursday at Columbus.

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His absence Saturday also meant playing time for Alex Volkov, who filled Joseph’s spot on the fourth line.

Stephens injury update

The initial prognosis of Saturday’s injury to center Mitchell Stephens wasn’t promising. Cooper said the fourth-line player could miss significant time. Stephens fell awkwardly while getting tangled with Columbus defenseman David Savard during the third period. He skated off the ice, unable to put weight on his right leg, and needed assistance to the trainers room.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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