POOLSIDE IN FT. LAUDERDALE, FLA. – For the second time in a week, Thomas Vanek finds himself nursing an upper body injury that could keep him out of action. Vanek didn’t take part in today’s practice at the BB&T Center, and interim head coach Ron Rolston said he’s “potentially” available for Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
“He didn’t skate today. He’s got an upper body (injury), just a muscle strain,” explained Rolston. “We’ll see tomorrow, see how he’s doing at the (morning) skate and go from there. He’s still pretty sore today, so we’ll see how he feels if he can get out there tomorrow morning. If he can’t, he’ll be out.”
Vanek had 13:29 of ice time during Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Tampa, and left the game after playing just one shift at the beginning of the third period. This injury comes just a week after Vanek had to miss the game against Toronto on March 21, after absorbing a slap shot in the hip from teammate Christian Ehrhoff in Montreal two nights earlier. It’s not known if this injury is related to that.
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Regardless of Vanek’s playing status on Thursday, Rolston did confirm that winger Drew Stafford will return to the lineup after spending the last two games in the press box as a healthy scratch. Rolston hopes the two-game hiatus can serve as a wake-up call for Buffalo’s assistant captain and what he can bring to this team.
“With Drew, we just want him to go out there and make things happen for our team; lead the way for us. He’s in that position because he earned it, and that’s what he’s gotta do. Just lately it’s been a reminder of the things he’s gotta get back to more than anything,” explained Rolston. “And that’s for all of our guys. They just can’t take for granted they’re going to be in the lineup. We need them to play a certain way. For Drew, a large part of that is just leading the way; being a leader out there for us. I expect he’ll come back and play really well for us.”
The NHL’s off-ice officials crew in Tampa experienced some system issues on Tuesday, and that created havoc with the in-game scoring. Shots on goal were an issue right away, at one point reading “0-0” in the first period, despite the fact the Lightning held a 1-0 lead. Several penalties and plus/minus stats were also affected, until the crew was finally able to update the system hours after the game. The official stats now list Tampa as outshooting Buffalo 25-14 on the night, including a 16-5 run in the second period.