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A healthy Anthony Cirelli a good omen for Lightning

The two-way forward returns sooner than anticipated and makes an immediate impact.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli, pictured during a game earlier this season against the Blackhawks, had a goal and an assist in his return to the lineup following a six-game absence.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli, pictured during a game earlier this season against the Blackhawks, had a goal and an assist in his return to the lineup following a six-game absence. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 28
Updated Feb. 28

TAMPA — Of all the positives that came out of the Lightning’s 5-0 win over the Dallas Stars Saturday night at Amalie Arena, one of the biggest might have been the return of center Anthony Cirelli.

When the 23-year-old center last played Feb. 11 in Sunrise, he came off the ice favoring his right arm after taking a hit from Florida center Aleksander Barkov. At the time, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said only that Cirelli’s status was week-to-week, indicating his absence could be a lengthy one.

Cirelli missed six games before returning to the lineup Saturday, scoring a short-handed goal and assisting on an even-strength score while playing on both the penalty kill and power-play units. His 15:54 of ice time was fourth-most among Lightning forwards.

“When I got hurt, I didn’t know what it was right away,” Cirelli said. “The training staff did such a good job in helping me and rehabbing me. I’m good to go now. Obviously, I just have to stay on it, but I’m feeling good.”

Cirelli centered the team’s second line, alongside Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn. Cirelli assisted on Stamkos’ early third-period goal, finding the Lightning captain in the left circle for a one-timer.

“Stammer and Killer are two elite players, and you’re just trying to get them the puck,” Cirelli said. “You see Stammer there, you’re just trying to feed it to him. And with his shot, he can score from anywhere. Stammer works hard, he makes the right plays all the time, he’s always in the right spot.

“And then, when you throw Killer in there, too, he’s so good at protecting the puck and making plays. We’re just kind of reading off each other. Obviously, I played a little bit last year and a little bit this year. So I think it’s just kind of building momentum, and when you play with guys like Stammer and Killer, it’s easy to play with them.”

Lightning auction off Black History Month jerseys, goalie mask

Back-up goaltender Curtis McElhinney wanted to make a statement as protests against social injustice spread across the country last summer, but he couldn’t find the words.

So with some advice and input from Mathieu Joseph — the only Black player on the Lightning’s roster at the time — McElhinney created a powerful goalie mask, which featured prominent Black athletes such as Jackie Robinson and Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player.

The mask was revealed over the summer while the Lightning competed in the postseason bubble in Toronto.

Now it is among 30 items listed in a team auction that will benefit middle school education programs focusing on Black history.

In addition to the mask, fans can bid on warm-up jerseys worn before Saturday’s game against Dallas, which featured Black History Month patches designed with input from Joseph and Gemel Smith, who also is Black.

“It was nice and simple,” Joseph said. “But it was a little different than just having, let’s say, a Willie O’Ree patch or something like that.”

The auction, run by the Lightning Foundation, will run through Friday at 6 p.m. As of Sunday morning, the lowest bid for jerseys was $150, and McElhinney’s mask had a bid of $600.

Light load for Point line

Brayden Point’s line typically leads Lightning forwards in ice time, but the combination of Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson saw an uncharacteristically light workload Saturday.

The line produced one of Tampa Bay’s two even-strength goals when Point scored 8:17 into the second period. But Point saw just 10:50 of ice time, well below his 18:19 average entering the game. Palat was on the ice for 9:46 and Johnson 8:54, both over 15 shifts.

Asked about their ice time, Cooper said it wasn’t by design. The Lightning did spend a significant amount of time on the penalty kill, which could have been one reason the three didn’t play as much.

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