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Lightning’s Anthony Cirelli returns to lineup with added protection

The forward was the butt of jokes from teammates after breaking his nose Monday but played a season-high minutes Thursday against the Flyers.
The Lightning's Anthony Cirelli, left, and Flyers' Rasmus Ristolainen, right, collide during the first period of Thursday's game in Philadelphia.
The Lightning's Anthony Cirelli, left, and Flyers' Rasmus Ristolainen, right, collide during the first period of Thursday's game in Philadelphia. [ MATT SLOCUM | AP ]
Published Nov. 18
Updated Nov. 19

PHILADELPHIA — Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli’s nose looked a lot better Thursday than it did three days earlier, when a puck to the face caused unsightly swelling and bleeding.

Cirelli survived a fight with Islanders forward Brock Nelson on Monday without a scratch to his face. Then, after sitting in the penalty box for 17 minutes, he was sidelined on his next shift by a puck that broke his nose.

His teammates joked with him, saying he looked better with his swollen nose than he did before. And that a random puck did more damage to his face than any of Nelson’s punches was a popular punchline.

“A bunch of jokes here and there, for sure,” Cirelli said. “I think the next day I walked in and everyone just started dying laughing. But they make it fun. Obviously, it sucks to go through and stuff, but it’s over with now, just looking forward.”

Cirelli not only returned to the ice for Thursday’s game against the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center, he logged a season-high 25:22 in the Lightning’s 4-3 shootout win.

He wore a full bubble mask face shield as extra protection. He tested bubble and cage masks during the morning skate and preferred the bubble. It was a bit of an adjustment. Cirelli hadn’t worn more than a typical helmet visor since he was 14 or 15, when he wore a cage mask.

“You want to feel more comfortable, just my eyesight, seeing the ice and the puck,” he said. “The cage is different with so many lines in the way and stuff, so the bubble is more kind of like the visor. … I think the bubble’s easier to see in just because of the fact that it’s closer to a visor.”

Cirelli said it was still a little difficult breathing through his nose but he was feeling better.

“The doctors did a really good job putting it back in and stuff, and everything has been going pretty well so far,” he said. “I feel pretty good.”

It didn’t seem to affect him on the ice. Along with playing season-high minutes, he saw 2:06 on the penalty kill and blocked three shots.

Coach Jon Cooper lauded Cirelli for returning so quickly after breaking his nose, saying he’s setting an example in toughness for his teammates.

“If you’ve got a bruise, you’re definitely not going to voice your opinion about it with guys like Cirelli doing what he needs to do to get back on the ice,” Cooper said. “It’s impressive.”

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

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