Tampa Bay did not get any "blessings" with their lineup tonight against intrastate rival and divisional opponent Florida.
Following Thursday's costly 4-1 victory over Minnesota, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said it would take some divine intervention for just one of a trio of injured centermen - Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette - to be available for the Bolts' game tonight versus the Panthers. After Saturday's morning skate at AMALIE Arena, the Lightning coach confirmed all three will miss tonight's contest.
Johnson, Namestnikov and Paquette are all dealing with lower-body injuries and are considered day-to-day. Asked if he was encouraged the injuries don't appear to be more severe than what was feared Thursday night, Cooper was non-committal.
"I don't know, they're all out, so I don't know how encouraging that is," he said. "I can't sit here and say what they're going to be games moving forward. This is a big one tonight and they're out, so guys are going to have to step up."
In Johnson, the Lightning are losing their second-best goal scorer (19 goals) and third-leading scorer (44 points). Namestnikov is a valuable bottom six center with nine goals and 15 assists on the season. And Paquette brings grit and toughness to the lineup and is known throughout the league to be the hardest player to play against on the Bolts.
The Lightning will have to rely on recently-recalled prospects like Yanni Gourde and Adam Erne to help fill the void.
"We're missing some key guys tonight," Bolts defenseman Luke Witkowski said. "But, as we've shown throughout the course of the year with every callup that we have, guys can fill roles, and it's a big game."
Video: Cooper on matchup with FLAPECA RECALLED: To help replace the dearth of centers on the roster, the Lightning recalled Matthew Peca from Syracuse on Saturday in time for tonight's important tilt against the Panthers.
Peca was with the Lightning once before this season and played nine games in his first NHL stint, recording a goal (Jan. 3 vs. Winnipeg) and an assist (Dec. 31 vs. Carolina).
The 5-foot-8, 178-pound Peca was a valuable contributor during his first recall, his offensive skills translating well from the minors to the big league.
"He skates," Cooper said. "He works. He's got a nose for the net. Obviously, we're short centermen. We need centermen."
Cooper said his advice to Peca will be simple: "Do what you did last time you were here, and things will be alright."
Peca has been a stalwart in the Syracuse lineup this season, playing in 53 games and recording eight goals to match a career high for goals he set in his first pro season last year with the Crunch.
Peca ranks fifth on Syracuse for assists (22) and sixth for points (30) in 2016-17.
Video: Witkowski on divisional matchup with FLABANNER VICTORY: The Lightning's 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday wasn't just important because it was the Bolts' 10th victory over their last 14 games, continuing their upward trajectory as the end of the regular season draws near.
The win also served notice to the rest of the league - and maybe even the Lightning players themselves - they can beat one of the best teams in the NHL.
The Bolts had come oh-so-close during their recent run of wins to knocking off one of the top teams in the league. In their first meeting with the Wild on Feb. 10 in Minnesota, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37-of-38 saves in a brilliant performance, but the Bolts came up short in a shootout. Facing the Penguins in Pittsburgh on March 3, the Lightning opened a 1-0 advantage and tied the game 2-2 early in the third period but eventually succumbed to Pittsburgh's unrelenting waves of pressure in a 5-2 loss.
And again this Monday against New York, the Lightning battled the Rangers to a scoreless draw through 60 minutes only to fall in overtime.
Thursday's result against Minnesota was that signature win the Lightning had been looking for.
"It's always good to beat a great team," Bolts forward Gabriel Dumont said. "I think we deserved a better fate against New York. We lost in overtime 0-0. Their goalie played great, so nothing we can do there…(Against Minnesota), we just did what we had to do and got a big win against a team that's second or third in the league. It for sure feels good, and it just tells us that we can do this."
The Bolts will have plenty of opportunities upcoming to prove they can play with the league's elite. They can avenge their loss to the Rangers on a trip to Madison Square Garden Monday followed by a road matchup the next day in Ottawa, currently second in the Atlantic Division and gaining on first place Montreal. A meeting with the league's top team, the Washington Capitals, looms next Saturday at AMALIE Arena.
"All the wins are important, but you look at, we got three of four points out of two 40-plus-win teams," Cooper said of the Bolts overtime loss to the Rangers and win against Minnesota. "That's big for us. It shows the guys in the room that regardless who we're playing, we can hang with some of the teams that have proven to be strong contenders throughout the year."
ICE CHIPS: Tampa Bay is 6-1-1 over its last eight home games, has allowed two or fewer goals in six of its last eight home contests and 12 goals total over its last eight home games…Tonight's presumed starter in goal for the Lightning, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is 4-0-1 over his last five starts and has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his last 12 starts…Ondrej Palat needs just one more point to reach the career 200-point milestone…The Lightning are closing in on 100-consecutive sellouts at AMALIE Arena. Should the Bolts reach capacity tonight against Florida, it will be their 99-straight sellout, including playoffs, going back to the 2014-15 season. In fact, the last time the Lightning didn't sell out a home game at AMALIE Arena came against the Florida Panthers on March 24, 2015, a 4-3 win for the Bolts.