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Lightning owner: Team can rally around hurt players

Tampa Bay without Stamkos, Stralman for start of playoffs

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said he expects the team will rally around the injuries of forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Anton Stralman when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this week.

The Lightning play the Detroit Red Wings in the Eastern Conference First Round. Game 1 is Wednesday at Amalie Arena (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Last year the Lightning defeated the Red Wings in seven games and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Vinik said he is eager to see which players will raise their game in the postseason.

"For every injury there's a guy who can step up," Vinik said. "We've got a lot of talent on our team and we've got as much heart as we do talent. I'm really interested to watch our guys because I know they are going to step up and come through and play really good hockey. And I think we can play with any team out there even with the injuries."

Video: Red Wings face the Bolts in Round 1 of the playoffs

Stralman is out indefinitely with a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula. Stamkos will be out 1-3 months following surgery April 4 to treat a blood clot near his right collarbone.

Stamkos is at the end of his five-year, $37.5 million contract and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Vinik said he was confident the Lightning would sign Stamkos to a long-term contract during the team's FanFest in September and reiterated his feelings when he spoke to media in December. 

Vinik said he's talked to the injured players, but doesn't want to interfere with their efforts to recover from injuries.

"A couple of conversations," he said. "You know they are working hard to get back on the ice to help them as soon as they can. Their heads are in great places. They just want to see the team win and get back as soon as possible to help the team."

Vinik held the Lightning's Community Heroes Celebration Event on Sunday to honor the 220 recipients. During the event, he announced the program will be extended for another five seasons and $10 million. 

Through five seasons, the Lightning Foundation has granted $11.15 million to more than 300 different non-profits in the Greater Tampa Bay area.

"One of my favorite parts of my nights at every home game is getting to meet the heroes and learning about the organizations that they are involved in and the difference they make in people's lives," Vinik said. "Five years, 11 million dollars, 220 heroes, [over] 300 non-profits. How could we not extend that? We can keep going, we'll find more heroes that do amazing things and reach more and more people in this area."

Vinik said the program will continue through this season's playoffs. Last year the Lightning Foundation doubled the amount of donations from $50,000 to $100,000 during the Cup Final. 

"This is our fourth year in the playoffs and we've given away hundreds of thousands of dollars during the playoffs and there are still plenty of heroes that we want to showcase," Vinik said. "People in this area have been so supportive of, not only our charitable work, but the Lightning. This is our favorite time, right before the playoffs. We've got all our energy and there's nothing better than playoff hockey in the NHL."

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