The Tampa Bay Lightning have a huge hole to fill on their blue line as the playoffs near.
Veteran Anton Stralman left Friday night’s game against the New York Islanders in the first period after getting tangled up with Anders Lee in front of the Bolts net.
Stralman needed assistance to the Tampa dressing room and was putting no weight on his left leg as he left the ice.
Prior to the start of the second period the Lightning announced Stralman would not return due to a lower body injury.
Steven Stamkos understands the injury. The Lightning captain suffered a fractured leg in November 2013 and missed nearly four months.
"That’s a tough one . . I feel for him,’’ Stamkos told Erik Erlendsson of the Tribune. “Hopefully it’s something that is not as bad as it sounds and we can get him back sooner rather than later. He’s a elite defenceman in this league, not only a great player for us but he’s a great guy in the room. We are going to miss him."
The 29-year-old blue liner is second amongst Lightning defencemen in average ice time per game (22:20) and points (34) in 72 games this season.
Stralman's regular season is done, but coach Jon Cooper wasn't sure of a possible playoff return.
“It’s a battle, probably just unfortunate the way the whole thing went down," Cooper said. "He caught his toe in the ice and that effected the part of what happened to him. I don’t look at the guy, Lee and say he was trying to do that. He’s battling for position in front, so was Strals and the way it ended up was really unfortunate."
Tampa Bay currently has seven defencemen on its active roster, which means Nikita Nesterov could draw into the line-up when the Bolts continue their six-game homestand against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Nesterov, 22, was a healthy scratch on Friday night.