Probably the question every Lightning fan was asking him or herself a half hour following the final horn of the Bolts game against New Jersey last night.
One minute, fans are celebrating a 3-1 win over the Devils, the Bolts drawing ever-so-close to wrapping up a long-anticipated playoff berth.
Then Lightning head coach Jon Cooper answers a question at the post-game press conference about Steven Stamkos’ in the game and says GM Steve Yzerman will address it following his question-and-answer session, and Bolts fans knew nothing good was going to come out of that speech.
Yzerman announced All-Star center and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had a blood clot near his right collarbone caused by a condition called effort thrombosis and would undergo surgery on Monday to treat it.
He would be OK. There would be no negative impact on his playing career once the issue had been dealt with.
But he would miss the next one to three months of the season, meaning Stamkos would be out for at least the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs should the Lightning qualify.
And on the long end of that timetable, Stamkos wouldn’t be ready to play until early July and would have to sit for the entire postseason.
Stamkos’ health is most important. The fact the blood clot was discovered – following Thursday’s game, Stamkos felt tingling in his fingers and discomfort in his arm, the next morning doctors identified the culprit – before severe consequences occurred and doctors feel confident he will make a full recovery is relieving.
But the Bolts have now lost two major parts of their team in the last week with the playoffs set to being in a week and a half.
We’ll dive deeper into last night’s news in today’s 3 Things.
1. SILVER LININGS
The Stamkos announcement was harsh but a few things Yzerman said softened the blow somewhat.
For one, the Lightning already have experience dealing with this exact same issue. Before the season started, backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy noticed a purple color and swelling in his hand and showed it to team doctors. Testing revealed a blood clot in his left collarbone. He had surgery September 3 and was back a little less than two months later, making his season debut November 1.
Stamkos has a success story to follow a few paces from his locker room stall in the 21-year-old Russian.
“We strangely and ironically dealt with this situation with Andrei,” Yzerman said. “We know what we’re dealing with. We’re comfortable with the medical team that we have and the procedure we’re doing.”
To have two athletes on the same team with the same condition is rare.
To discover both in the same season is just bad luck.
“It is an extreme coincidence,” Yzerman said. “Prior to Andrei having been diagnosed with this, I had never heard of it myself personally. After talking with the doctors, it’s a condition that’s very common amongst athletes who do anything with their arms over head: baseball pitchers, volleyball players. In hockey it’s very rare. I don’t know that there’s another hockey player I know that has had it.”
A player having major surgery this close to the playoffs would seem to indicate his season is over.
But that’s not the case Yzerman said.
“Our plan,” he said. “Is to continue playing as long as we can until not only we get Stammer back, we get Anton Stralman as well.”
In the meantime, Yzerman stressed this is an opportunity for other players to step up while Stamkos heals. Other teams are dealing with major injuries too. Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is out indefinitely with a concussion, this after the Penguins learned center Evgeni Malkin would be lost until mid-May with an upper-body injury. Anaheim lost their goaltender Frederik Andersen to a concussion indefinitely too.
Now is the time for the Lightning to rally around the injuries to Stamkos and Stralman, to keep the season going while both mend to ensure we haven’t seen the last of either in a Bolts sweater this season.
“Losing Stralman, losing Stammer, it’s going to affect our team,” Yzerman said. “It’s going to affect individual players’ roles. You know what, we’ll figure out a way to win. We have a good coaching staff, and if we have to adjust things, if Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy have to stand on their head every night, that’s what they’re going to have to do. And we’ll figure out a way on the power play. We got a big power-play goal to win the game tonight to make up for the loss of having both those guys on the power play. Again, you just have to stick with it and strange things happen, and that’s the good thing about competition and sports is you can find a way.”
2. STAMKOS IN GOOD SPIRITS
Media haven’t talked to Stamkos since after the game Thursday night. He was absent from practice Friday and didn’t take part in Saturday’s morning skate (we now know why).
But in a statement, the Lightning leader remained positive about his medical issue.
“Obviously this situation is extremely disappointing because I wanted to help my team clinch a playoff spot and prepare for the start of the postseason,” he said. “During my recovery, I will do all I can to help my teammates, and I hope to rejoin them soon in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”
Stamkos is determined not to let this end his season.
“Stammer’s a level-headed guy and he’s disappointed, but he knows what needs to be done,” Yzerman said. “He understands what needs to be done, and his mindset was, ‘Let’s just get this done and get to work.’”
Yzerman, too, is dealing with the situation well, offering some humor when asked if he could recall a situation in his career when an important player or two were lost to injury and the team rallied around the hardship.
“I don’t want to bring up one because I got hurt and the team was actually better without me,” Yzerman said, drawing laughter from the media. “I can’t remember the year, but I was like, ‘Geez, they’re in no hurry to get me back.’ But I don’t think that’s the case here.”
3. ONE WIN AND THEY’RE IN
In non-injury news, the Lightning merely need to win one of their final four games on the regular-season-ending road trip to New York/New Jersey and Montreal to secure their spot in the postseason.
The Bolts entered last night’s game with a magic number of 5.
They reduced it by three following their win in regulation over the Devils: two points for the victory and an extra point for controlling the wins in regulation/overtime (ROW) tiebreaker. There are eight teams in the Eastern Conference capable of finishing higher in the standings than Tampa Bay. The Lightning can guarantee they’ll eliminate one of them – Detroit, 97 possible points – with two more points, and they own the tiebreaker over the Red Wings, thus guaranteeing the Bolts would be one of the final eight in the East.
Even if Tampa Bay finishes the season on a four-game losing streak, it could still back into the playoffs provided Detroit loses any of its final three games in regulation.
With a magic number of two, the Lightning control their own destiny. They want to take care of business as quickly as possible.
“Final four games of the year, and we’ve still got to win more games to get in,” Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said. “For us, it’s refocus and go.”
Having won five of their last seven games, the Lightning want to keep trending upward heading into the postseason.
“We have to continue to progress, continue to work at our game and continue to play with good habits, good structure,” Bolts forward Brian Boyle said. “Those are the things we need to do from here on out and however long the season is going to go. If we want it to go long, we have to be very attentive to detail and make sure everybody knows exactly how we are supposed to play and demand it from each other.”