TAMPA — Alex Killorn was willing to do whatever it took to get back on the ice during last season’s Stanley Cup final.
After blocking a shot in Game 1 of the series against the Canadiens, the Lightning forward had surgery on his left leg the morning of Game 3. Doctors inserted a steel rod into his leg to support the fibula, which had broken into two distinct pieces. The hope was that he could return to play, if needed, should the series stretch to six or seven games.
Killorn didn’t play again, as the series was over in five. He called missing the chance to play for a championship in front of his hometown team “brutal.” Nevertheless, he skated around the ice with the Cup over his head for a second straight year.
Killorn, 32, returned this season to put together a career year in his 10th NHL season. His 34 assists and 59 points are career highs, and his 25 goals — with three games remaining — are one short of the 26 he scored in 2019-20.
Killorn has been recognized as this year’s Lightning nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the game.
Killorn was nominated by the Tampa Bay chapter members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. It’s the second nomination for Killorn, who also was recognized in 2019-20, when the award went to the Senators’ Bobby Ryan.
The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show.
“It’s really special to be nominated,” Killorn said. “Whenever you get nominated for something, especially when you look at the guys on your team, and a lot of deserving guys to be nominated, I think, I don’t take it for granted at all. And it’s a great honor.”
At the time of his surgery, Killorn said he felt like he “was playing some of the best hockey” of his life. He had recorded eight goals and nine assists through 19 playoff games prior to the injury.
He took part in the morning skate before Game 4 and that night’s pregame warmup but was unable to play in the game after a shot of Toradol (a numbing agent) caused fluid to build up, prompting additional swelling.
Killorn said his only concern before the operation was whether it would affect his play long-term. He began rehab last summer, working almost daily to get his leg back to full strength, and tested it in training camp.
The results weren’t instantaneous, but all Killorn cared about was seeing progress.
“When I first had the surgery, the first couple of months, there wasn’t a ton of progress,” he said. “That’s when it gets frustrating. But then once you see the progress and you start skating and you start to feel it get better, then you know it’s going in the right direction and the frustration kind of seems to leave.”
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Consistency is something the Lightning’s longest-tenured player — he was drafted in 2007, a year before Steven Stamkos — prides himself on. His longest stretch without a point this season was five games, and he’ll compete in his eighth postseason next week, when the Lightning begin their pursuit of a third straight Stanley Cup.
All-time, Killorn ranks fifth in goals (171) and games played (720), eighth in points (402), ninth in assists (231) and 10th in power-play goals (35). They’re achievements he doesn’t take lightly.
“I think if you would have told me that (he’d reach those milestones) when I started or when I was drafted in 2007, I don’t know if I would have believed you, honestly,” Killorn said.
“I think I’ve been pretty fortunate in the sense that I came in at the right time when we were kind of going through a little bit of a rebuild. And then, you know, we found some success later on in my career, and hopefully I can just continue to do it”
Killorn, who came up through AHL Norfolk and Syracuse before joining the Lightning fulltime in 2013-14, has become a pillar of the organization.
He said he has a better understanding of the game now than he did as a young player. He also has shown growth as a leader since first donning an “A” on his jersey as one of the team’s alternate captains in 2019-20.
“He’s ... just a good leader, and obviously the last couple of couple years he’s been an even bigger leader,” said forward Ondrej Palat. “He’s been great.”
Killorn has learned from some of the best players and leaders in franchise history and now can impart that wisdom to those around him.
“I think it’s just kind of the natural progression.,” he said. “When you’re a younger guy and you have guys like (Ryan) Callahan, I think about (Vinny) Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, there’s a lot of guys to look up to and you don’t feel like that’s kind of your place to talk in a room like that because they’ve been through so much more that you haven’t.
“But once those guys start to kind of end their careers, there’s definitely room for guys to lead and to step into those roles. And I just felt like, I don’t know the exact date, but as those guys started retiring, it’s kind of like, I felt like I’ve always had those leadership qualities, and I can kind of step in and help this team.”
How the Times’ PHWA members voted:
Eduardo A. Encina: Killorn, Victor Hedman, Corey Perry
Mari Faiello: Killorn, Hedman, Perry
Lightning’s five previous Masterton nominees
2021: Steven Stamkos
2019: Ryan Callahan
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