BOSTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t expected to do much this season. Coming off of an 18-26-4 lockout-shortened season that cost former head coach Guy Boucher his job, expectations were minimal for the Bolts.
But then they jumped out to a 12-4-0 start, and quickly became one of the league’s most impressive teams in the infancy of this season. Much of that was thanks to Steven Stamkos, who entered the week tied for the league lead in goals and points. Everything may have come crashing down for the Lightning in Boston Monday afternoon, though.
Stamkos is no stranger to silencing crowds, but he silenced the TD Garden faithful for the wrong reason. With 12:49 to play in the second period, Stamkos got tied up with Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton and went crashing into the Tampa net. Stamkos’ right leg slammed into one of the goalposts, and the two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner started writhing in pain on the ice. His leg was eventually stabilized by the training staff before he was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher.
He was taken to the hospital for X-rays where he was diagnosed with a broken tibia, an injury that will likely require surgery. Without Stamkos in the lineup moving forward, the Lightning certainly are now up against it.
“Injuries happen,” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said after the game. “He’s got a long time in his career without being seriously hurt. There’s no sugar-coating it; he’s a huge part of our team. You could make an argument that if you were going to hand out the MVP of the league right now you’d be hard-pressed not to give it to him. So in saying that, is that a hole on our team? Yes.”
It didn’t take long for the Lightning to feel the loss of the sniper who entered the game with 14 goals and nine assists through 16 games. Just five minutes after the injury, the Bruins scored two goals in 20 seconds on the way to winning 3-0. Without Stamkos (and eventually Sami Salo and Keith Aulie), there was little chance for a Lightning comeback. And while Tampa Bay played well, all things considered, it just wasn’t enough.
If anything, it will serve as a reminder for the Lightning that they must still be able to find a way to win without Stamkos, which is much, much easier said than done.
“It’s a big loss, but you know, we’ve been winning games as a team and we’re going to have to find a way to continue doing that,” Tampa Bay captain Martin St. Louis said. “We’re going to have to raise our game collectively. You don’t replace Stammer [Steven Stamkos], but the guys are going to have to step up.”
Stamkos is one of the best players in the world, so it makes sense that his loss will affect the Lightning in likely the worst way possible, but the impact of the Canadian’s injury is much more far-reaching than that. The Markham, Ontario, native is one of the most popular players on the planet, one of the league’s most important figures. He figured to be a major piece in Team Canada’s quest for the gold medal at the Winter Olympics. He’s the kind of player that fans have no problem paying money to go see.
That was evident by the quiet hush that fell over the Garden as soon as the injury happened, only giving way to respectful applause as Stamkos was wheeled off the ice.
“It’s obviously tough to see him go down, not only for our team, but he’s one of the best players in the world,” Cooper said. “I think people come here to cheer the Bruins and see guys like Steven Stamkos play hockey.”
Even on the other side of the things, it was tough for the Bruins to not feel a little bit sorry for Stamkos, even in the heat of battle.
“I don’t care if he’s on the other team or not, a player like that is why people pay and come and watch,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “When you see a player like that … you don’t like seeing that, even as an opposing coach. This game is built on guys like that who have tremendous skill and are leaders and have everything else. It’s unfortunate that those kind of injuries happen to those kind of players. We hope that his injury isn’t too serious and if anything, he’s going to come back quick.”
It’s going to be a while before Stamkos is back out on the ice wreaking havoc on the rest of the NHL. Opposing teams may welcome that on nights they face the Lightning, but there’s no denying this is not only an awful injury for Stamkos and the Lightning, but for the game of hockey as well.