On Friday, the Tampa Bay Lightning learned lower-body injuries to Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette may not be as severe as initially feared.
All three players were diagnosed as day-to-day, which is good news considering how serious the injuries looked live and again on replay.
Still, all three players will need time to get healthy and return to the ice. In their absence, a pair of recently-recalled youngsters figures to play a much more prominent role for the Lightning than they would have otherwise.
In Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild, Yanni Gourde moved up to center the second line in just his sixth-ever NHL game and recorded a career-high 16:35 time on ice, over six minutes more than his previous high (10:09 set three nights earlier). Gourde also recorded his second career NHL point, assisting on Nikita Kucherov's empty-net goal to seal the Bolts' important victory over the Western Conference's top team.
Adam Erne also saw his role expand on Thursday, the power forward getting time on the power play while dishing out four hits and blocking two shots.
Until the aforementioned injured trio return to action, Gourde and Erne figure to stick around in Tampa Bay a little while longer.
"We called Gourde up, right, 'And here's your opportunity. You're wondering if you're going to play, you're going to play,'" Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "Whoever we call up, they're going to play because we have to. We're in a stretch of four games in six nights with Saturday and then on Monday and Tuesday, and they're all huge games right now. So they're all going to play. 'You wanted the opportunity. Here it is.'"
Video: Gourde on increased opportunitiesGourde and Erne certainly recognize the door that has opened for them right now, even if it is at the expense of their teammates.
"You don't really want to see guys go down, but at the same time, it opens up opportunities for guys like me," Erne said. "It was kind of the same thing at the trade deadline. Boyle was a good guy, one of the veteran guys that originally made things a lot easier for me at training camp, talking to me and what not. Obviously, Bish is in the same boat and Fil. But, it's the business, and if you can capitalize on opportunities like that, it's something you want to do."
Gourde was recalled from AHL Syracuse on Monday. He's played in both Tampa Bay games since and has showed off his speed and energy while also displaying a knack for creating scoring opportunities.
"I feel comfortable," Gourde said when asked how he thought he's played during this latest recall. "I play with very good players, so it kind of gives you a little boost, helps you out a lot. So, it's very fun."
Gourde played right wing on the third line on Monday against the New York Rangers. He was bumped up to the second line prior to Thursday's Minnesota game and slid over to center once the injuries started to mount.
Video: Rick Bowness on injuriesDuring Friday's practice at AMALIE Arena, Erne also filled in at center for stretches of the training session, pivoting Gabriel Dumont and J.T. Brown on the third line.
"Smart guys can move to center," Bowness said. "Drouin has in the past. (Killorn) used to in the past. I'm sure Pally if we needed to could do. You do what you have to do. If you're asked to play center, go play center."
Gourde said the Lightning coaching staff hasn't spoken to him yet about an increased role but has encouraged him to continue playing his game.
"Keep my game simple," Gourde said about the coaches' instructions to him. "Work hard, try to create turnovers and we'll see how it goes and how it works out. Try to get confidence out of every shift, and then we'll see how it goes."
Erne scored his first career NHL goal in the Lightning's 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh on March 3. The 21 year old said he's been playing well since being recalled on February 27 and needs to continue being a physical presence on the ice to see his ice time increase.
"I've just got to make sure every shift I'm being physical and bringing energy," Erne said. "It's just making sure I don't take any shifts off, make sure every time I get a chance to finish a hit, I'm doing that."
Behind unexpected contributions from guys like Gourde and Erne, the Lightning have picked up points in 12 of their last 14 games, going 9-2-3 over that stretch. Since February 3, Tampa Bay owns the third-best points percentage (.750) in the league. The Bolts are currently four points back of the second wild card in the Eastern Division.
"It's fun and intense for sure," Erne said about the playoff chase. "Guys are on edge. Everybody wants to win and get two points and in the end it makes you better. Guys are pushing each other, challenging each other, and, as a team, I think we're just getting better every game."