Tampa Bay received good news and bad news regarding its two injured superstars ahead of Saturday's tilt against the Anaheim Ducks at AMALIE Arena.
First, the good: Nikita Kucherov is back after sitting out Tampa Bay's 3-1 win in Chicago with an upper-body injury, his first missed game since March 1, 2018. Kucherov was on the ice for Lightning morning skate Saturday and was on the right wing on a line with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point as well as in his typical spot on the Bolts' top power-play unit.
Now, the bad: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos will not be available for the contest against the Ducks as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury sustained during the first period in Chicago. Stamkos sat on the bench but did not play either the second or third periods versus the Blackhawks.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper did not have an update on Stamkos' timeline to return.
With the captain out, Tyler Johnson took up residence in Stamkos' left-circle office on the top power-play unit.
"The one thing is, injuries affect every team," Cooper said. "Probably the biggest is on special teams is really where you miss a Kuch or you miss a Stamkos. So, we've just got to fill our holes there in that regard. (Stamkos is) a big part of our team. It puts guys on alert a little bit that you've got to step your game up. But we liked so much of our effort, compete, the minimal turnovers from the last game, and that's exactly how we've got to keep playing. If we can do that, at least we'll give ourselves a chance to win and buy some time until Stammer can come back."
With both Kucherov and Stamkos out for most of the contest in Chicago, the Lightning simplified their play and produced one of their best games of the season. The Bolts controlled the Blackhawks throughout. When Chicago leveled the score midway through the final period, the Lightning had an answer 1:17 later and added to their lead to win convincingly.
"I thought we just played the right way," Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. "We know what Stammer and Kuch brings every night. Our offense can probably get away for one game without our two big guns in the lineup, so we've got to find a way to just play simple hockey and just manage the puck a little better. I thought the few games we shoot ourselves in the foot, we don't manage the puck. We turn it over so much. We let (the opponent) transition to their game, and once we do that, we're playing defense the whole game. Our team needs to spend our time in the O zone. Once we start managing the puck, our gaps are good, our back pressure is good, quarter ice those other teams and we get back on offense right away. I thought we did a really good job of that at Chicago. We've got to find ways just to build off that. We're moving in the right direction, but we've got to string some games here together."
"I liked the structure in our game and the way we bounced back," Hedman added. "They tied the game up and we scored two quick ones. That's how good teams respond and that's what we want to see from our group."
Stamkos will miss his first game since sitting out the final three games of the 2017-18 regular season after playing a full 82-game season in 2018-19.