NEW YORK – It was nearly 11 p.m. Saturday when the word got out and the shock spread around the National Hockey League.
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos missed his team’s win over New Jersey with what the club termed an upper-body injury. It was the first absence for Stamkos since the broken leg he suffered 2½ years earlier during a game in Boston. But when coach Jon Cooper was a sked for an update on his star after the game, he deferred by saying General Manager Steve Yzerman would be appearing to give an update.
That’s a red flag, a sign of immediate bad news on the horizon. And it certainly was.
Yzerman announced that Stamkos has a blood clot in his arm and will be undergoing surgery Monday. He could be out a month, or he could be gone three months – as in the entire Stanley Cup playoffs. And remember, he’s an unrestricted free agent after the season. He may have played his last game for the Lightning, the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2008.
“We do not anticipate any negative impact on his return to his playing career moving forward,” said Yzerman, who added the team is still focused on getting Stamkos signed to an extension.
Stamkos entered Sunday tied for fifth in the league in goals with 36 and has 64 points. It’s the fifth time in his career he’s scored at least 35 goals in a season.
“Obviously this situation is extremely disappointing because I wanted to help my team clinch a playoff spot and prepare for the start of the postseason,’’ Stamkos said in a statement released by the team. “During my recovery I will do all I can to help my teammates and I hope to rejoin them soon in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”
The Stamkos situation is one of several that will impact teams heading into the playoffs.
The Lightning have two of them, as defenseman Anton Stralman is out with a non-displaced fracture of the left fibula. He’s hopeful of returning during the playoffs but it might require a deep run by his team to get to that point.
Without Stamkos and Stralman, the defending Eastern Conference champions are clearly in trouble.
Tampa Bay is not alone. As we head into the season’s final week, here’s a quick check on some other playoff-bound teams or hopefuls and their sudden injury issues:
Chicago: Goaltender Corey Crawford has been sidelined with a mysterious issue that’s believed to be a concussion and has missed eight straight games. He skated Saturday for the first time since the injury and again on Sunday, and coach Joel Quenneville hopes he can start one game this week before the playoffs.
The Hawks are breathing a sigh of relief about defenseman Duncan Keith’s six-game suspension for high sticking Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle; Keith will only miss the first game of the playoffs when it seemed like he was in danger of missing several games in the first round.
Pittsburgh: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury suddenly didn’t appear for Saturday’s game in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders and the team annnounced he was out with a concussion for the second time this year. Matt Murray posted a shutout in the 5-0 victory that clinched a playoff spot and could be forced to carry the load during the first round.
Fleury is 35-17-6, with a 2.29 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. An update on his condition is expected Monday, but it should be noted he missed eight games with his first concussion.
Florida: Center Vincent Trocheck, a surprise 25-goal scorer, is week to week after taking a shot off his left foot Tuesday night against Toronto. The Panthers might need to win a round for the first time since 1996 for him to see the ice again this year. “It’s tough,” veteran Jaromoir Jagr said after that game. “Not only did we lose this game, but we lost our best player.”
New York Islanders: They’re trying to hold on to a wild-card without goaltender Jaroslav Halak and now might have to do it without key defenseman Travis Hamonic, who suffered a knee injury Thursday night against Columbus. Hamonic won’t play for the rest of the regular season. The team has not yet defined how long the injury might last.
The Sabres were off Sunday and will practice Monday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. They’ll meet the New Jersey Devils there Tuesday night.
The season concludes with a weekend back-to-back, with Columbus coming to First Niagara Center for Fan Appreciation Night on Friday and the Sabres returning here Saturday to meet the New York Islanders in Brooklyn.