PHILADELPHIA — The Tampa Bay Lightning learned how to win without star forward Steven Stamkos in the past and they’ll need to do it again after learning the 26-year-old sniper will be out at least four months with a torn meniscus.
When they visit the Flyers (8-7-3) on Saturday afternoon, the Lightning (11-6-1) will try to continue what has been a perfect start to a five-game road trip (3-0-0).
Tampa Bay did just fine in its first game without Stamkos, throttling the struggling Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Thursday night on the strength of balanced scoring and 32 saves from Ben Bishop.
"Obviously, it’s a huge blow to our team," Bishop said of losing Stamkos, who three years ago missed 45 games with a broken leg and last season missed all but one playoff game with a blood clot in his collar bone. "You lose your captain and arguably one of the best players in the league. It’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to step up. Everyone has to pick up the slack a little bit. … You’ve got to go more as a team effort because you can’t rely on your big dog to come through."
Alex Killorn recorded a goal and an assist for the Lightning and Nikita Nesterov, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point also scored for Tampa. Kucherov has four goals and two assists in his last three games and is now tied for the NHL lead with 22 points in 17 games.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said it won’t be easy replacing Stamkos, whose 20 points in 16 games ranked third in the league before his injury.
"There’s always that emotional first game when you’re without your guy," Cooper said. "So the problem is that it’s not just one game, it’s months, and we just have to stay consistent."
The Flyers, who have been seeking consistency all season, are expected to welcome back rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who was a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career Thursday night.
Philadelphia won two of its last three games and received a strong 30-save effort from Steve Mason in Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Four different Flyers scored in that win and 12 different players recorded points.
It was just the fourth time this season Philadelphia held an opponent under three goals and just the sixth time it did not allow a goal in the third period.
"I think definitely when you’re going into the third with a lead you can’t let up at all," said right wing Wayne Simmonds, who scored his team-leading ninth goal in the third period on Thursday night to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead. "We’ve got to pressure. Falling behind is kind of where we’ve laid back in the third period we kind of let teams give it to us and I think that’s where we get in trouble, so we’ve got to keep following this groove."
Mason is expected to return to the net, where he’ll be looking to win consecutive games for the first time this season.
"Mason made some huge saves for us and he can’t do that every game," Philadelphia defenseman Mark Streit said. "As a whole team we need to improve, especially on Saturday when we face another good offensive team. We need to be in sync."