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Lightning lose Erik Cernak in overtime loss vs. Avalanche

The defenseman leaves in the second period after blocking a shot with his left leg and never returns to the ice.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) falls to the ice as Avalanche right wing Logan O'Connor (25) looks on during the second period in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) falls to the ice as Avalanche right wing Logan O'Connor (25) looks on during the second period in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 23|Updated Yesterday

TAMPA — The Lightning’s road to a third straight Stanley Cup gets tougher if they have to battle through Game 5 Friday without one of their shutdown defensemen.

In Wednesday’s overtime loss, Erik Cernak blocked a shot just below his left pant leg from Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon 5:14 into the second period.

ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported that Cernak could not put any weight on his left foot as he was helped down the tunnel by a trainer. A second trainer flanked Cernak to help get him to the locker room more quickly.

While Cernak reappeared at the start of the third period, he didn’t take a shift on ice. He took a spin during a television break to test out his leg, but clearly wasn’t 100% as he remained sitting at the end of the bench in front of back-up goaltender Brian Elliott for the rest of the period. He was not on the bench for overtime.

After the game, coach Jon Cooper did not have an update on Cernak, taking just one question and giving an emotional response about how his “heart breaks for the players” after Colorado’s overtime winner. The Avalanche lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 with Game 5 in Denver on Friday.

Cernak’s departure left the Lightning shorthanded on the blueline with just five defensemen. Before Wednesday, he held an average ice time of 19:53 and ate up major minutes on the team’s top power-play unit.

Mikhail Sergachev skated alongside Ryan McDonagh when Colorado had the man-advantage. Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta made up the other pairing on the second unit.

“The guys stepped up,” Sergachev said. “Definitely a lot of blocks, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of good plays.”

Cernak’s injury wasn’t the only hiccup. Anthony Cirelli’s right arm made contact with Alex Killorn’s skate blade during the second period. Cirelli immediately grabbed his arm, grimacing in pain. He skated to the bench and did not return until the start of the third period.

The contact clearly impacted the defensive forward, who did not take the period-opening face-off at center ice. Instead, linemate Brandon Hagel did.

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Brayden Point missed his second straight game. The star center returned for Game 1 against the Avalanche after missing the previous 10 games due to a lower-body injury sustained during Game 7 of the opening round against the Maple Leafs.

During Wednesday’s broadcast, ESPN said Point wouldn’t be available any earlier than a potential Game 6.

Additionally, Nikita Kucherov was already banged up after he took a cross-check to his lower back from Colorado’s Devon Toews on Monday. Kucherov, however, was healthy enough to play in Game 4.

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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