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Lightning believe they can win without Stamkos

Tampa Bay pushing forward without injured center

by Dan Rosen @dorsennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn lifted his head so he could look around the dressing room Monday morning at Barclays Center. He could see Victor Hedman and Braydon Coburn sitting across from him, J.T. Brown, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson in succession on his left.

He did not see Steven Stamkos. He did not see Anton Stralman. He did not flinch.

"This is our group now," Killorn said. "We have to win with this group."

And with that, Killorn looked back down and confidently started talking about the Lightning's belief, which is being tested now that the players and coaches know they won't have Stamkos or Stralman for the foreseeable future.

Video: TBL@NYI: Kucherov finds Killorn for the equalizer

Stamkos, the Lightning's leader with 36 goals, had surgery Monday to treat a blood clot near his right collarbone. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said the surgery was successful and he's expected to be out 1-3 months, though a firmer timetable is expected to be available in a few weeks.

Stralman, a 22-minute per game, all-situation, top-pair defenseman, already has missed five games because of a fractured left leg and is expected to be out at least another month. The Lightning are 2-3-0 without him after their 5-2 loss at the New York Islanders on Monday.

"The belief is strong. It's always strong," Killorn said hours before the tough night in Brooklyn. "Those guys are huge parts of our team, but we still believe in this group that we have right now."

Frankly, the Lightning have no other choice. There is no chance a group of professional hockey players who were Eastern Conference champions 10 months ago, is going to surrender with three games remaining before they likely return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: TBL@NYI: Hedman nets wrister as the 2nd winds down

The Lightning can clinch their berth in the postseason with one point Tuesday at the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SNO, SNP, MSG).

"The one thing we can't do is sit here and say, 'Our two big guns are out and now our season is over,'" Lightning coach Jon Cooper said before the game against the Islanders. "We've come way too far to have anything like that try and get in our mindset. It stings. It hurts. It is clearly not ideal. But we've got to be pros."

And so the Lightning soldier on without their captain and top goal-scorer and without the player who arguably is their most important defenseman. After playing the Rangers, the Lightning finish their regular season at the New Jersey Devils on Thursday and at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

That they still have three games remaining is a silver lining. The games remaining should, theoretically, allow the Lightning to figure out how to manage without Stamkos and Stralman.

Video: TBL@NYI: Vasilevskiy makes a glove stop on Strome

They're still in the gray area on that.

They managed well without them against the Devils in a 3-1 win at home on Saturday, hours after they learned of Stamkos' blood clot issue.

"It was one of our best structured games of the year," Cooper said.

They didn't manage their game at all against the Islanders on Monday, after time allowed the shock of losing Stamkos to a health scare to wear off.

"It's a lesson," Cooper told reporters following the game.

Cooper, in fact, wondered aloud if the Lightning were so good against the Devils because they were still in shock about Stamkos' situation. He wasn't sure if their structured game would show up again against the Islanders.

It didn't.

The Lightning had the game tied early in the second period, but fell behind 4-1 by allowing three straight goals in a span of 5:15. Victor Hedman made it 4-2 at 19:53 of the second period, but the momentum didn't carry into the third.

Video: TBL@NYI: Paquette puts a body check on Hickey

Goalie Ben Bishop was pulled after Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk made it 5-2 at 4:28 of the third. Tampa Bay's 25th-ranked power play was 0-for-4, falling to 1-for-17 in the past four games and 12-for-118 on the road this season.

Making it worse, the Lightning's defensive structure eroded, leading to odd-man rushes against, Islanders players open in front of the net, and turnovers in the defensive zone.

"We just played the other night without [Stamkos and Stralman] and things were OK," Cooper said. "It's tough to go on a four-game road trip and lose the first one, but there's always tomorrow."

Tomorrow brings a game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and another chance to clinch a playoff berth, another chance to test their new-look team against a quality opponent.

The shock of losing Stamkos and Stralman has worn off. They're not around to help now. It's up to everyone else to figure out how to play long enough this season so they can be again.

"That's got to be our mindset," Cooper said. "Let's get them back. Let's not make this the end of their season."

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