With Tampa Bay's leading scorer Nikita Kucherov suspended for Game 3 of the Lightning's First Round series against Columbus after boarding Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara late in a Game 2 loss, Ryan Callahan will get his first start of the playoffs in Columbus.
According to Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, Callahan was always going to play Game 3.
"It's just unfortunate it's at the expense of Kuch," he said.
Video: Ryan Callahan back in the lineup
Callahan brings leadership and energy to a Lightning locker room needing both as the Bolts find themselves trailing 0-2 in the series after dropping the opening two games on home ice.
"He's filled that role for us for multiple years now since acquiring him," Cooper said. "We've had success with him in the lineup. It was unfortunate in the last game of the year that he got hurt, so it kind of slowed or stalled his progress to be able to play."
Callahan was used sparingly by the Lightning over the second half of the regular season, but when he was inserted into the lineup, he generally provided a spark and brought some scoring punch to the fourth line. He recorded points in eight of his last 18 games of the regular season over 42 team games, tallying four goals and five assists.
He's also a fierce competitor, a heart and soul guy who leaves everything out on the ice. The Lightning will need all of the intangibles he brings when they enter a hostile environment inside Nationwide Arena Sunday night.
"I think our compete level and everything has to be better, getting the puck in their zone more, sustaining some pressure in their zone and then hopefully I can bring a little bit of that to the team," Callahan said. "That's all I'm trying to do tonight is go out there and play my game and do what I can to help us win."
Despite dropping the opening two games of the series, the Lightning aren't down on themselves. The mood during the Bolts' optional morning skate was positive. Inside the locker room was the same. The Lightning feel they can get right back in the series with a win in Game 3.
"We've got to come into Columbus and win one hockey game. That's what it comes down to," Callahan said. "Recent history, we were in the same situation against Washington, obviously we didn't finish the series but came back and went up 3-2. Obviously, adjustments need to be made. That's what we talked about without getting into the game plan stuff, I think just the mood in the room has been good. It's a confident group in here. Like I said, we've got to win one game in Columbus and then we're back in the series."
Callahan is a proven playoff performer and was one of Tampa Bay's best players in its Eastern Conference Final series against the Capitals last season, scoring what would turn out to be the game-winning goal in Game 5 at AMALIE Arena and, ultimately, the final goal the Lightning would score in the series.
The veteran right winger has played 119 career playoff games, third most on the Lightning, and has amassed 20 goals and 19 assists in the postseason. He ranks fifth all-time in the NHL for playoff hits (446).
Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said Callahan brings "grit" to a Lightning lineup. The Bolts have been in short supply of that through the first two games of the series.
"He never gives up. He always plays hard," Sergachev said. "He's a skilled guy, especially last year, I remember the goal from Philly, he showed his great skill. He brings all of that to the table."
Sergachev was asked if he's surprised to be staring at an 0-2 deficit after two games to start the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bolts have maintained they trail in the series not so much because of what Columbus is doing to them but more what they're doing to themselves.
"Obviously, it's on us," Sergachev said. "I'm just surprised we didn't play our game and we didn't show what we can do, what brought us to the playoffs. The 62 wins, we didn't win them by surprise. We won them because we deserved them and we didn't show anything the first two games. We've got to be better."
Video: Cooper | Pregame ECQF Game 3
HEDMAN A GAME-TIME DECISION: Victor Hedman didn't practice Saturday before the Lightning departed for Columbus, Cooper saying he was a bit banged up and was taking a maintenance day.
Hedman wasn't on the ice for Tampa Bay's optional skate Sunday either. It'll be a game-time decision whether he can play in Game 3.
"He's been banged up for the last bit," Cooper said. "Obviously, he didn't go on that (final regular season) road trip with us. It's just when he's not 100 percent confident in his ability to be physical. Hopefully we'll find out tonight."