Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Hedman injury another Lightning reminder that winning Cup doesn’t come easy

Nothing comes easy. Not when you’re trying to win a Stanley Cup.

The Lightning is finding that out.

For nearly four months, things have gone about as smoothly as they could for the Lightning.

Best record in hockey. Top scorers in the league. Best goalie in the business. Scoring goals at a crazy clip. Beating teams any which way you want.

We’re barely more than halfway through the season and the Lightning has all but locked down a playoff spot.

If general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper had written up an outline for the season before it began, they probably wouldn’t have included as much success as this season has had so far.

What could go wrong?

Uh, don’t ask.

RELATED: Victor Hedman out 3-6 weeks with lower-body injury.

After all the things that have gone right for four months, it took only an instant for everyone in Tampa Bay to be reminded that nothing comes easy.

The biggest hold-your-breath moment of the season came Thursday night when All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman was helped off the ice with what was called a lower-body injury.’ But every Lightning fan immediately starting praying to the hockey gods that it wasn’t what they feared: a torn knee that would wipe out Hedman’s season.

It looked bad. It looked way worse than when Steven Stamkos tore his knee in November 2016 and missed the rest of the season. In a flash, the Lightning’s Stanley Cup odds seemed to take a serious hit.

Other than goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, no player means more to the Lightning than Hedman. Other that Vasilevskiy, no loss would hurt the Lightning more than losing Hedman for an extended period.

Though not preferable, the Lightning could lose leading scorer Nikita Kucherov for the rest of the season and not feel it as much as losing Hedman. It could lose Stamkos for the rest of the season and not have that hurt as much as losing Hedman. That’s how much the big defenseman means to the Lightning.

You can breathe again, Tampa Bay.

The Lightning dodged major trouble when it was revealed Friday that Hedman’s injury is not as bad as feared. He is expected to miss only weeks as opposed to months. If all goes as expected, Hedman will be back well before the playoffs, and that was about the best news Tampa Bay could have reasonably hoped for.

RELATED: Struggling Andrei Vasilevskiy can use some rest.

Yet it was a cold reminder of how quickly things can change in hockey, and let’s face it, the Lightning doesn’t need any more reminders. It has been down this bumpy road before. Bad luck and untimely injuries (as if there are ever timely ones) have crushed more than one potential Stanley Cup run.

In 2014, the Lightning seemed poised for a deep playoff run when star goalie Ben Bishop went down with an injury right before the playoffs. The Lightning was swept in four games in the first round.

The next season, Bishop injured his groin during the Stanley Cup final and wasn’t the same goalie he had been all season long. The Lightning lost to Chicago in six games.

Then the season after that, Stamkos missed all but one postseason game of Tampa Bay’s run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final because of a blood clot. The Lightning lost that Game 7 to eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh.

And this season all was going great until Hedman was injured on what was fairly routine check along the boards. As Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said, "That’s hockey.’’

That could apply to everything about what happened, from the play itself to losing a star player in the snap of a finger.

RELATED: The Lightning’s Stanley Cup hopes are riding on this.

The Lightning is off for a few days now, and the break could not have come at a better time.

Vasilevskiy is fighting it a bit right now, having allowed 15 goals in his past three starts. Stamkos hasn’t had a goal in six games. After a hot start, Vladislav Namestnikov has cooled and has no goals in 10 games.

And overall, the Lightning has looked just okay in the past couple of weeks, with a 4-3-1 record in its past eight games. It’s nothing to be overly concerned about. There was no way Tampa Bay was going to keep up its torrid pace. And if 4-3-1 is considered a slump, the Lightning can feel pretty good about itself.

But it will feel a lot better if the playoffs would just get here already.

The Lightning still has three more months to navigate. It won’t be easy. Why?

That’s hockey.

Comments
Lightning laments losing Ondrej Palat on ‘non-hockey play’

Lightning laments losing Ondrej Palat on ‘non-hockey play’

The Lightning still doesn't know how long it will be without Ondrej Palat, who went back to Tampa for testing Monday.Coach Jon Cooper said Palat will be sidelined at least through this weekend's All-Star Game.But Tampa Bay was still ticked with how P...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Add swagger to Lightning’s loss column

Add swagger to Lightning’s loss column

CHICAGO — It didn’t take the sound of a door slamming in the visitor’s dressing room Saturday night to sense this Lightning team is frustrated.Tampa Bay believed it had worked hard against the Wild — at least, harder than it did in Thursday’s letharg...
Published: 01/21/18
Jones: Saluting CBS, honesty and goats (not to be confused with GOATS)

Jones: Saluting CBS, honesty and goats (not to be confused with GOATS)

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.Best coverageThe best football broadcast I’ve ever seen was Super Bowl XLIII. That was NBC’s coverage of the Steelers’ last-minute victory over th...
Published: 01/21/18
Expansion Golden Knights pass Lightning for top spot in NHL

Expansion Golden Knights pass Lightning for top spot in NHL

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Golden Knights are giving Vegas a great odds-beating story in their first year.The expansion team has the whole league playing catchup.James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault scored to help Vegas beat the Hurricanes 5-1 on Sunday and...
Published: 01/21/18
What’s gone wrong with Lightning?

What’s gone wrong with Lightning?

It didn't take the sound of a door slamming in the dressing room Saturday night to sense this Lightning team is frustrated.Tampa Bay felt like it worked hard – at least, harder than Thursday's listless loss to Vegas – yet dropped another ...
Published: 01/21/18
Ondrej Palat out indefinitely, Lightning calls up two

Ondrej Palat out indefinitely, Lightning calls up two

The Lightning's telling trip just got tougher.Wing Ondrej Palat flew back to Tampa for more tests Monday and will be out indefinitely, a big blow to the Lightning's shutdown line. Palat suffered a lower-body injury getting speared by Minnesota's Jare...
Published: 01/21/18
Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Lightning said all the right things about needing to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching during its recent funk. Veterans said they had to lead the way. Coach Jon Cooper believed this eight-game trip would "show us wha...
Published: 01/20/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Mikhail Sergachev gets thrown into the fire for Lightning

Mikhail Sergachev gets thrown into the fire for Lightning

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the first 20-plus games this season, Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness knew "the look" was coming.The other team’s top line would jump over the boards and Tampa Bay rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev would peek over at Bow...
Published: 01/20/18
Missing the Olympics a missed opportunity (and misstep) for NHL?

Missing the Olympics a missed opportunity (and misstep) for NHL?

One week from today, Tampa will be the center of the hockey world.The All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. Players will smile for the cameras. They'll put on a fantastic show. Maybe they'll catch a bead or two from a Gasparilla parade.But you ...
Published: 01/20/18
Andrei Vasilevskiy: ‘I have to be better’

Andrei Vasilevskiy: ‘I have to be better’

The rest of the Lightning players had already left the ice Friday afternoon, heading into the dressing room for a quick change before the team's charter flight to Minnesota.But goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, 23, stayed on late, facing about 15 minutes mo...
Published: 01/20/18