Friday, 4 a.m.
Okay. What's next?
How in the world can the Tampa Bay Lightning make things any harder on themselves in this NHL playoff race?
Let's see. They could tie their skate laces together. They could use golf clubs instead of hockey sticks. The defensive players could play offense, and the offensive players could play defense. They could bring back Oren Koules.
Or, maybe, they could play without Nikita Kucherov.
Oh, wait. That one, they accomplished Thursday night. Kucherov missed the game because of being sick, putting him on the sidelines with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan and Tyler Johnson. Still, they gritted out yet another comeback win, beating the Detroit Red Wings 5-3 with the bottom of their roster.
Content beyond this point is for members only.
Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the GarySheltonSports.com blog (its at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!
Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on GarySheltonSports.com.
No Kucherov? No problem. They had J.T. Brown, who managed to score his first goal in 46 games. Yes, they still count one each.
No Stamkos? Who cares? They had Andrej Sustr, who scored his second goal in 44 games. Sustr had told his teammates some time ago that the goal-scoring song he had selected was Britney Spears' “Oops!...I Did It Again.” No one was sure if it had been longer since he scored or since that song was a hit.
No Johnson? Big shrug there. They had Yanni Gourde, who scored the third goal of his life. As in ever.
Brown? Sustr? Gourde? Has anyone laid claim to the “Triplets” nickname? Oh, never mind.
"Eventually you need secondary scoring,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Somebody’s going to lead your team in scoring. Somebody’s going to be second. Somebody’s going to be third. That’s just how it works. But when you’re missing those guys, the goals have got to come from somewhere. For Brownie to get the first one, especially when we fell behind, it was big to get that to bring it back to even.
"To get one from Shu, to get one from Yanni Gourde. Killer hadn’t been on for a while. It was just a team effort, that one. Everybody contributed in every way and when we needed the saves, Vasy was there to make them. The power plays get shuffled around a little bit. We won that war. I know they got one, but we ended up getting two on that one. Other than that, everyone was just committed, but it’s been like that for weeks now. It’s been great.”
Still, it is a sobering idea to enter a big game without your primary weapon. Kucherov has carried this Lightning team. He's had the most goals, and the most moments.
Put it this way: The career goals of the five players who scored for the Lightning? 129, and Killorn and Drouin have 100 of those. The career goals of the four who missed the game? 690.
In other words, the Lightning was like a solider who had his rifle taken away, and his bayonet, and his pistol, and he had one hand tied behind him.
Still, they won.
Clearly it’s a little bit of a shock to the system, especially with all the guys that we have out right now,” Cooper said. “To find out an hour and a half before the game, or whatever it was, that he wasn’t going to be able to go. The guys took it as a
challenge. How many times Kuch has bailed us out of games and been the guy for us? Well, now let’s be the guy for Kuch. I love the sport of hockey because it’s not a one man show, ever. Everybody’s got to contribute. But when you lose somebody as valuable to our team as Nikita, failure’s not an option. You’ve got to step up for him. I thought everybody did tonight.
"He was feeling off this morning, but nothing that we were really concerned about at all. From personal experience, I had the same thing a couple months ago. Once you get hit, you’re out. I felt awful for him because a lot of guys this has gone through, Hedman and Garrison and the amount of guys this has gone through. Hopefully this is it. We don’t play tomorrow which is going to be hopefully a good recovery day for him. We’ll see if he can play next game.”
It was the sixth time in their last seven wins that the Bolts have come from behind.
"Resiliency,” Cooper said. “They never give up. We’ve fallen behind in some of these games. That’s kind of the kicker for
me. It’s just, ‘Who’s up? Next shift. Next shift.’ They’re just doing all the little things you have to do to win hockey games. Ultimately they’re playing as a team and especially with some of the fire power we have out of the lineup, guys are taking it as a challenge. To sit here and say, we lost our guy, but is that going to define our team? By no means do we want to go long stretches like this, but, for one night, the boys were unreal.”
Look, there are Broadway plays that get along just fine when an understudy acts. There are rock concerts that go on when the bass player is ill. But not in sports.
It happened this time because those who seldom score did. Brown lays his body into the opponents a lot. Sustr blocks shots. Gourde sweeps up the little moments.
"I think it’s nice to see them get rewarded,” Killorn said. “I think, for Brownie, I think he said it was 46 games. It’s always nice. Those guys do so much more than scoring for us. When they can get a goal and they can chip in, it’s huge. It’s nice. You really like to see those guys get rewarded because they do so much. Other things, blocking shots. Brownie got a fight tonight, huge lift for this team. Whenever they score, it’s great.”
The Bolts try to close ground Saturday when they play against Montreal. They play Dallas Sunday. Both games are at Amalie Arena.