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Lightning's Stralman doesn't skip beat in Game 2

Defenseman scores in first period, plays 18:39 against Penguins after returning from fractured left fibula

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

PITTSBURGH -- Nearly two months had passed since Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman was on the ice with his teammates, but he finally returned Monday.

Stralman, who fractured his left fibula on March 25, scored in his return in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final at Consol Energy Center.

It didn't take long for Stralman to make an impact in his return; with the Lightning trailing 2-0 in the first period, Stralman took a cross-ice feed from Jonathan Marchessault and sent a wrist shot past Penguins goalie Matt Murray at 16:37 to make it 2-1.

"That was an excellent pass by [Marchessault] obviously," Stralman said. "I got a little lucky too; the puck kind of just sat up on edge a little bit, and it allowed me to get some elevation on it too."

Stralman took eight shifts and played 5:25 in the first period, but received more ice time from Lightning coach Jon Cooper as the game progressed; Stralman played 6:29 in the second period and finished with 18:39. He had three hits and two blocked shots.

"We couldn't say for sure how I was going to feel out there," Stralman said. "We took it a little easy in the first, and then I did a little more workload as the game went on."

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm2: Stralman finishes great feed in return

It was a good sign for the Lightning, who go home with a split. Game 3 is at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I think it took him a couple of shifts … you've got to get hit, you've got to feel the puck, you've got to feel the pace," Cooper said. "But other than that, Stralman's Stralman. He's a thinking man's defenseman, he knows where to be. I just thought he got stronger as it went on.

"Him scoring that goal was big for him to feel right back in the game. He's a really important player for us. For us to move on in this series, we're going to need him."

It took Stralman nearly eight weeks to recover from his injury, perhaps a bit longer than originally anticipated. Patience was a virtue, and on Monday he looked like the reliable defenseman he's been since joining the Lightning in July 2014.

"It wasn't too frustrating; you can't really control it," said Stralman, who had nine goals, 25 assists and a plus-16 rating in 73 regular-season games. "It's just a matter of doing all the stuff you needed to do to get where I am today. It was not always fun maybe, but I don't think I was too frustrated."

With the injury behind him, Stralman can focus on playing the game he loves, while trying to help the Lightning return to the Stanley Cup Final. He's just happy he was able to come back before it was too late.

"It's fun," Stralman said. "I really enjoyed it. It was a little fast in the first period, but as the game went on, I kind of settled in a little bit and felt more comfortable. It was fun to be out there again."

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