ST. LOUIS — The Lightning were without Steven Stamkos for tonight’s road game against the Blues. The team captain returned to Tampa for the expected birth of his second child.
That forced the Lightning to play with just 11 forwards and dress seven defensemen. For the first time since the regular-season opener, the Lightning went into a game with a surplus of defensemen.
The Lightning already were without forward Mathieu Joseph, who is sidelined by an unspecified injury. Top scorers Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov are also out.
Erik Cernak, the team’s top right-shot defenseman, returned from a hand injury, and initially the Lightning planned to scratch second-year defenseman Cal Foote. But without Stamkos, Foote dressed to give the Lightning an extra defenseman.
Injuries to Cernak and veteran Zach Bogosian (blocked shot to his foot) plus Mikhail Sergachev’s three-game suspension last month forced the Lightning at one point to play without all of their top defensemen.
While playing the penalty kill on Nov. 9 against Carolina, Cernak was hit in the hand by Andrei Svechnikov’s slap shot, forcing him to miss eight games. The Lightning were cautious with Cernak’s return, giving him two extra games to ensure his hand was fully healed.
“The last week was kind of like, on and off,” Cernak said. “One day I was feeling really good and the next day I was just feeling a little bit more pain, so that’s why we took those two extra games just for me to heal properly. … Everything you’re doing with your hand — shooting, poke checking, trying to defend and stuff like that, its’ always a little problem, but now it’s all good. I’m ready to play.”
Cernak was off to a strong start before the injury, adding more offense to his already exceptional defensive game. He was one of the team leaders in shots on goal when he got hurt and showed no hesitation jumping into the play in the offensive zone.
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