Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Carle left Wednesday’s Game 3 midway through the first period after taking a big hit from New York’s Derek Stepan in the neutral zone.
Carle fell to his back following the contact and was slow to get to his feet, which allowed New York’s Jesper Fast to skate free down the middle of the ice on a breakaway and net the Rangers’ second goal.
Carle immediately made his way to the bench and headed into the locker room. He didn’t return to the game after suffering an undisclosed injury.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he wasn’t sure if Carle would be available for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday at Amalie Arena.
“No update,” Cooper said. “What’s the line, day-to-day, but then again, aren’t we all?”
Carle has played in all 16 postseason games, registering two assists and a minus-six plus-minus rating. Carle is one of a handful of Bolts with considerable playoff experience. He has played in 104 postseason games over his 10-year NHL career and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final while with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010.
Carle missed two months of the regular season (mid-January through mid-March) after undergoing surgery to repair torn adductors in his lower abdomen.
In do-or-die situations during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning have prevailed in each.
The Bolts have faced two elimination games during the postseason, Game 6 and Game 7 versus Detroit in the opening round. They won both.
The Lightning have played three overtime games in these playoffs where the first goal wins. They scored the golden goal each time.
Nikita Kucherov scored his third game-winning goal of the playoffs and second overtime game-winner during Game 3, snapping a wrist shot from inside the blue line past New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist to improve the Bolts overtime record in the playoffs to 3-0.
So, with their backs against the wall, are the Lightning somehow able to find an even higher level of play?
Not really, players say.
“I think it’s just the character in the room,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. “It’s something we’ve built all year, getting comfortable playing in those situations. Certain guys have been stepping up in those situations, and you have to do that to win. It’s those games or those situations that you need someone to step up and make a big play and so far we’ve gotten that.”
Tyler Johnson said having faith in their system and their structure is what gives the Lightning confidence when everything’s on the line.
“It’s nerve-racking, it’s exciting, but, at the same time, you have to play the same way,” said Johnson, who tied the Lightning franchise record Wednesday for most goals in a playoffs (12) set by Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko during the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning season. “You have to do what got you there and just hope that it works for you.”
Lightning forward Brenden Morrow hasn’t scored since a regular season game against Florida on March 24 and has yet to register a point in the postseason.
Yet, Morrow has played in 14 of the Bolts 16 playoff games so far.
The 36-year-old NHL veteran’s value lies in the intangibles that go beyond scoring according to Cooper.
“Who’s going to be the guy that goes to those dirty areas? Who’s going to be that physical guy? Who’s going to be the guy in the locker room that when things go awry he can calm our guys down? That’s Brenden Morrow,” Cooper said. “There’s a reason he was on the 2010 (Canadian) Olympic team. That’s a pretty decent team to find yourself on. I don’t think he was brought in there to be their goal-scoring leader. He was brought in because he was a piece of the puzzle, and we have a bunch of pieces of the puzzle. Some might be a little bigger than others, but you still need all the pieces to complete it and Morrow’s one of those pieces for us.”
Morrow has played in 108 postseason games during his 15-year NHL career. In his rookie season (1999-2000), Morrow helped the Dallas Stars return to the Stanley Cup Final.
“That’s what you’re looking for, somebody that’s been there before that has been in those wars,” Cooper said. “He’s played in a Cup final but he’s never won a Cup. You can see he’s got a hunger in his eyes for it.”