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Cirelli's status unknown, Stamkos added to COVID list

Cirelli exited the game midway through the third period and did not return; Stamkos has also been battling a lower-body injury

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL / TampaBayLightning.com

Lightning fans will have to wait another day before learning more about the status of second line center Anthony Cirelli.

Cirelli left midway through the third period of Tampa Bay's 5-2 loss at Florida Thursday, coming off the ice in the middle of a shift and heading straight down the tunnel without returning.

Following the contest, head coach Jon Cooper said "it didn't look great" when Cirelli came off the ice. Asked Friday following Tampa Bay's practice session at the BB&T Center if maybe Cirelli's injury wasn't as severe as he previously feared, Cooper responded: "We don't know that yet. We should have a better idea tomorrow. Obviously, we hope it's not long term. It's a tough time, seems like guys are going down right now. I don't want to speculate on anything yet, so we'll have to wait and see them tomorrow."

Additionally, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos didn't play in Thursday's loss, the announcement coming from the team during warmups he was day-to-day with a lower-body injury. On the Lightning Power Lunch show with Tampa Bay radio play by play announcer Dave Mishkin and pre- and post-game host Greg Linnelli on Friday, Bolts assistant coach Derek Lalonde said Stamkos suffered the injury in the previous game Tuesday at Nashville and might have been able to play if Thursday's contest were a playoff game.

The staff, however, had no reason to rush him back for game No. 12 of the regular season.

Friday evening, Stamkos was placed on the NHL's unavailable to participate due to COVID protocol list, further complicating his status. Stamkos is unable to practice, travel or play in games while on the list, which teams have until 5 p.m. local time to report their results and is released by the League shortly after.

Neither Stamkos nor Cirelli practiced Friday, although Cirelli's absence was announced as a body maintenance day. Blake Coleman, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh were also held out for body maintenance.

With Stamkos likely out Saturday and Cirelli's availability unknown, a number of Lightning players are likely to see their role increase in the rematch against the Panthers in Sunrise, and some players who have yet to suit up this season (i.e. Gemel Smith) might see their first game action.

Both Stamkos and Cirelli are major components of Tampa Bay's team. Stamkos leads the team for goals (7) and power-play goals (4) and had scored three goals over the last two games entering the series in Sunrise. Cirelli is arguably the Bolts' best two-way forward. He finished fourth in voting for the Selke Trophy last season and was emerging as one of Tampa Bay's offensive leaders this season. He's one of four players in double figures for scoring (4-6-10 pts.) so far on the Bolts. Stamkos (7-7-14 pts.) is another along with Brayden Point (6-10-16 pts.) and Victor Hedman (3-11-14 pts.).

"Tomorrow we'll get the list of guys that can play, and we'll put a team together from that," Cooper said. "The big thing for us is whether these guys are in or out, we can't sit down and kick the can because we're missing some important players on our team. It's a team sport, and we've got to rally around this. Some guys that probably haven't seen as many minutes are going to see them. We'll see where we're at if in fact these guys can't go."

The Lightning were overwhelmed in their first of eight meetings with the Panthers this season, a showdown of the top two teams in the Central Division. Pat Maroon said Florida got the Bolts "worst game" on Thursday.

"I think we were flat," Maroon said. "We were slow in the D zone. We were slow in the neutral zone. We just didn't get to our game fast enough, and they got to their game faster than we did and it was hard to respond. We were playing catch up from there. They're a good hockey team, got to give them credit. We've just got to be better."

Despite the limited numbers of players available, Maroon said Friday's practice session was a good reset for the team to work on areas that were exposed a night earlier by the Panthers.

"Yesterday wasn't our best. We know that," Maroon said. "But I thought the guys came out here and practiced hard today and prepared for tomorrow. We know we've got to be better, so we worked on some things that we can work on in the game. I thought the guys came in and worked hard today."

Other quotes of interest following Friday's practice session

Pat Maroon on playing in front of fans for the first time this season in games Monday and Tuesday at Nashville and Thursday at Florida:
"It feels normal again, kind of. I think it's just nice to see faces instead of your teammates. I love my teammates, but it's nice to see other people instead of obviously (the media's) faces through Zoom calls too. So it's kind of nice to see fans in the stands and see people out and about. We need activity. I know it's a crazy time right now, but we need to somehow get back to normalcy here soon. It's nice to see fans again cheering on the opposing team. So hopefully in Tampa we can have fans soon. It energizes the players I feel like too. With no fans, it's hard to get into it right away. You kind of have to engage yourself. But with a little bit of noise, a little bit of fans, you kind of feel the energy through yourself and you feel like, 'Oh, here we go.' We're somewhat getting back to normal here. We're having fun again. It's nice. Hopefully we can continue that, and the crowds get larger and larger as we move forward here. It's been fun playing in front of fans here the last few games. I can't wait to see the Tampa Bay Lightning fans come to a game."

Jon Cooper on what part of Victor Hedman's game has come the farthest in the time he's coached him and if he thinks Hedman's at the peak of his powers now as a defenseman:
"It's crazy because is he 30 now? He's 30 right? And I would argue he's playing the best of his career. And there are times out there when he's going he looks like a man among boys. To go back to the first question, there is something to the stat that to become a defenseman in this league, it takes whatever, people say it takes 150, 200 games to play in this league, and I think that is. I think players get away on their physical ability and your attributes which Heddy has: size, strength, skill, speed. But until you play in the league and understand the players, I think hockey sense as a defenseman can develop. I believe that's what's happened with Hedman. He knows what's going on all over the ice now where probably when he was younger he only knew what was going on the ice with him. And I think that's what makes you a world-class defenseman is being able to see everything that's going on. Vic has really grown into that. And his poise, I've just watched that kid get better and better. I don't know when he's going to hit his ceiling."

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