BUFFALO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are without captain Steven Stamkos for four months because of a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, but his teammates are prepared to move ahead without him.
Stamkos injured his knee during the first period of a 4-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday when he fell awkwardly into the boards. When the Lightning prepared to play the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Thursday, they faced the reality of not having Stamkos for an extended period of time.
Stamkos had surgery to repair the meniscus tear in his right knee on Thursday and will be out until mid-March.
The Lightning have played without Stamkos before; last season, he missed the final five games of the regular season with a blood clot near his collarbone, which required surgery. He returned for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2013-14, he missed 45 games with a broken tibia sustained when he crashed into the goal post against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11, 2013.
Video: Steven Stamkos to have surgery on right knee
"It's always tough losing a guy of his caliber and his leadership, but you know, it's fortunate and unfortunate that it's happened before, so guys know what it takes, guys know what we need to do," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "It's going to take everyone to step up. It's not one player replacing [Stamkos], that's impossible for us. It takes everybody to play that much better. We've done it in the past, so we've just got to keep doing what we're doing and keep grinding away and keep getting better."
Stamkos, who signed an eight-year, $68 million contract with the Lightning on June 29, was tied with Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars for third in the NHL in scoring with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists), behind Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets and Lightning teammate Nikita Kucherov, who each has 21 points.
"You don't want to go through it like we have in times before, but at the same time you live in this reality now and we've just got to have to face it," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "For us it's all about coming together as a group. Keeping those core guys together for the last three-four years is big. It obviously helps going down this road."
Coach Jon Cooper was resolute regarding how he wants to see the Lightning respond.
Video: TBL@DET: Stamkos leaves game with apparent injury
"You know what we have to do, you've got to take your head out of the sand, dig your heels in and march on," Cooper said. "And unfortunately, this has happened to us before and the guys have found a way, but we have to look at this as a challenge. And ultimately, we have to find a way to get ourselves into the playoffs. That's it.
"We know we can do this, but there's no guarantee. You look and you say, 'Well, 48 hours ago, 91's playing as good a hockey as I've ever seen, and some of the best in his career,' and you're really, really excited. He's got his contract and everything behind him and he's leading our team and for him to go down, you feel sick for him.
"Now everybody kind of has to pitch in. Yes, we are going to miss him dearly, but our season's not over by no means."