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Lightning prepare for another long layoff

Tampa Bay likely will know Monday if this week’s Carolina series is a go.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's Alex Killorn plays against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's Alex Killorn plays against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. [ JAY LAPRETE | Associated Press ]
Published Jan. 24, 2021
Updated Jan. 24, 2021

TAMPA — Regardless of how many games the Lightning play this week — and it appears they might not play again until Saturday — this is an important time for them.

Instead of traveling to Raleigh, N.C., for a two-game series against the Hurricanes scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday, the Lightning returned to Tampa on Saturday night following their 5-2 loss at the Blue Jackets, a game that was their worst of this young season.

The Hurricanes are in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak. They had a sixth player go on the COVID-19 protocol list Saturday to end a week in which they had three games called off and shut their facility.

The league likely was waiting for tests to come back Sunday and possibly today before calling off the series.

So Sunday, it was conceivable the Lightning would go six days between games. Their next scheduled contest after the Hurricanes games is Saturday at home against the Predators. A long layoff would come at a difficult time, following a game coach Jon Cooper called his team’s worst since before the pandemic shutdown last season, one full of poor puck possession and sloppy turnovers.

“Is it difficult that we have a week off, play two games, a week off?” forward Alex Killorn said. “Maybe a little bit, but I think we have to use this time to get better.”

The Lightning had two games called off last week because of a Stars virus outbreak that forced the NHL to push back the start of Dallas’ season to Friday. That gave the Lightning five days off between their second game of the year and the first of a two-game series in Columbus on Thursday.

“We as coaches and players have to prepare as pros and be ready for what’s ahead,” Cooper said. “It would be nice to get into a rhythm, there’s no question, but I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last time this happens to us or other teams in the league.”

Saturday was Lightning backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney’s eighth day on the COVID-19 protocol list. Forward Blake Coleman had a two-day stay on the list last week.

Because two of their first four scheduled opponents have had outbreaks, the Lightning potentially could go the first 17 days of the season having played just four games.

“You have to adapt,” Killorn said. “The one thing we’ve been telling ourselves this season is that you can’t look to the future because it’s so uncertain what’s going to be happening. … We have to be prepared regardless of the situation.”

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