Lightning lose defenseman Erik Cernak after hit to head

The status of the team’s top right-shot defenseman is uncertain after he took an illegal hit in the second period.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak is hit by Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy as he skates behind the Tampa Bay net in the second period.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak is hit by Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy as he skates behind the Tampa Bay net in the second period. [ Photo from video/NBC Sports ]
Published March 8, 2021|Updated March 8, 2021

After watching defenseman Erik Cernak take a bone-rattling hit to the head during their 6-3 win over the Blackhawks on Sunday in Chicago, the Lightning didn’t know how much time their top right-shot defenseman could miss.

Cernak was collecting the puck as he skated behind the Tampa Bay net midway through the second period when Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy approached from Cernak’s left side and laid out Cernak with his upper right arm.

Cernak was facedown on the ice for several moments as teammates, led by captain Steven Stamkos, went after Murphy.

Cernak, 23, left the ice under his own power but appeared groggy. He went down the tunnel to the locker room and did not return.

“I knew once I saw Murphy kind of take a couple strides, I knew he was going to hit (Cernak),” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “It’s just tough. Cernak is battling the guy, and he’s in such a vulnerable position, and I think Murphy just takes advantage of that.

“That’s a player in a completely vulnerable spot, and it’s tough. (Cernak is) one of our best defensemen, and now we don’t know what’s happening with him.”

Murphy received a match penalty and was ejected. The Lightning didn’t score on the ensuing five-minute power play, part of it negated by defenseman Victor Hedman’s two-minute tripping penalty.

The league will review the hit.

“Those are just tough hits to take,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I’m sure (Murphy is) going to face some consequences here coming up. And for us, it’s just an unfortunate blow. I don’t have any idea what the severity of what’s wrong with ‘Cerny.’ But injuries are going to happen. It’s just tough when they happen like that. So, hopefully it’s going to be okay here.”

Already without defenseman Jan Rutta, who missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury, the Lightning were forced to play half the game with five defensemen. Two of those were rookie Cal Foote and Andreas Borgman, who was playing his first game after spending the first part of the season on the taxi squad.

Foote logged a season-high 16:46 of ice time. Borgman, 25, who signed as a free agent in the offseason, skated 10:17 in his first game in a Tampa Bay uniform. Borgman hadn’t played in a game in nearly a full year, since March 11 with AHL San Antonio while with the Blues.

“Obviously, it’s been a while, so yeah, the legs were not really in game shape, maybe,” Borgman said, “but I felt good to be out there.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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