WASHINGTON -- Perhaps the most impressive part of the Tampa Bay Lightning's 4-2 victory against the Washington Capitals on Friday night was the fact they accomplished it without one of their top offensive weapons.
Simon Gagne, who entered Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal averaging a point per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, left the game just 7:22 into the opening period due to some type of upper-body injury. Gagne was cleanly hit by Caps defenseman Scott Hannan, but hit his head struck the ice on the way down.
A stretcher was brought out for Gagne -- who laid motionless on the ice for what felt like several minutes -- before the Lightning forward was able to get off and leave the playing surface with the help of two trainers. He did not return and will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
"You obviously don't want to imagine the worst," coach Guy Boucher said of Gagne, who had 2 goals and 5 assists in Tampa Bay's seven-game series win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "But at the same time, I'll be honest, I think our entire staff and our organization, we care about our players. For us, they're not numbers, they're people. The first thing that comes to mind is not, 'I've lost a player,' but, 'I hope his health is OK.'
"Obviously, when you see the stretcher coming out, it's not exactly what you want to see. Knowing that he's fine now and at the hotel, we'll see tomorrow. It's obviously a lot better of an outcome than it was looking like when he was on the ice."
Gagne's teammates could only watch as trainers and doctors attended to the talented sniper who has 564 points in 727 regular-season games. It was a helpless feeling for Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier, one of Gagne's closest friends on the club.
"I didn't see it," Lecavalier said. "I was turning the other way, but to see him lying down … obviously, he's a really good friend of mine. The history of what happened to him in the past, it was definitely scary. I'm not sure what's going on now. We didn't really get any news, so I hope he's OK."
Gagne and defenseman Pavel Kubina -- who also appeared to suffer an upper-body injury late in the second period -- both were back at the team hotel before the final horn sounded, but the Lightning used the remaining time in the game as a rallying cry for their teammates who couldn't continue. Gagne's departure left the Bolts short up front, but short shifts and a strong commitment to the defensive side of things helped them come out victorious.
"It cut our bench (to) 10 forwards," Lecavalier said. "It was pretty tiring the rest of the game, but we wanted to obviously play well for Gags. He's a determined guy. If he could have stayed (in the game), he would have. We played hard for him, for sure."
But given Gagne's history -- he missed 18 games early in the season due to neck injuries and was limited to just 25 games in 2007-08 due to concussions -- there was no chance of Gagne returning to the ice on Friday night. Hopefully, the Bolts will receive some good news when Gagne is re-evaluated Saturday.
"It's a concern, for sure," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said during the first intermission regarding Gagne's history. "A real concern. We'll learn more later."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL