Regardless of the score, the biggest success of a preseason game is coming out of it healthy, and the Lightning had a scare in Thursday’s exhibition game against the Florida Panthers.
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (undisclosed injury) did not return to the ice following the Panthers’ second goal with 1:58 remaining in the first period. Coach Jon Cooper had few details following Tampa Bay’s 3-2 loss to the Panthers, telling reporters in Sunrise that Sergachev was being evaluated.
Asked whether the injury could prevent Sergachev from playing on opening night Tuesday against the Rangers, Cooper said, “I do not know about that. It’s the exhibition season so you’re not taking any chances. Let’s see (Friday) how he is.”
Sergachev’s absence meant more minutes for Victor Hedman (27:50 in ice time) and Ian Cole (23:43) as the Lightning played the remainder of the game with just five defensemen.
“That was a tough part of the game because I think he only played like five minutes,” Cooper said. “You’re leaning on five defensemen in an exhibition game so it was tough on the guys but we almost got through it.”
Being without Sergachev for an extended amount of time would cut into a Lightning’s defense corps already without three pieces from last year’s team.
Sergachev was second on the team in average ice time — trailing only Hedman — and with Ryan McDonagh traded to Nashville for cap space, Sergachev was slated for bigger minutes and more penalty-kill duty this season. The Lightning also lost Jan Rutta to free agency and will be without veteran Zach Bogosian until at least late November.
If Sergachev misses time, it would likely force Haydn Fleury, currently the team’s seventh defenseman, into regular game action. Fleury, a former first-round pick, is with his third team in as many seasons and still is trying to establish himself as an NHL regular at 26.
This offseason, the 24-year-old Sergachev signed an eight-year, $68 million extension that kicks in in 2023-24.
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