There's something awfully familiar going on here...
Things are less grim than you feel they are, and while the loss of Steven Stamkos seems insurmountable, the show - the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning season - must go on.
If you swap out Steven Stamkos and place Ben Bishop, Anders Lindback and Valtteri Filppula in there, you might have a more accurate listing of the moment and how Lightning fans feel they're lost in desolation.
But it's not over, not nearly. It's a temporary setback. An odd one that challenges the depth of the Tampa Bay Lightning system (...and possibly pushes up Steven Stamkos' return date, more on that in a bit) but it's temporary; an aberration.
It appears Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop may both be out today - one due to injury and one as a precaution after being knocked around and knocked out in his last showing. This opens the way for a potential start by Syracuse Crunch starter Cedrick Desjardins (who has had two tenures with the Montreal Canadiens, playing much of his career with their AHL affiliate). Desjardins, if starting, may not be backed up by Bishop but instead by his compatriot with the Crunch, rookie Kristers Gudlevskis.
Kristers has ascended quickly after being drafted by the Lightning in the 5th round of the 2013 NHL draft last June: signing his entry level contract with the Bolts, seeing consistent playing time with the ECHL Florida Everblades before usurping Riku Helenius as the #4 goalie on the system depth chart and taking his roster spot with the Crunch.
Gudlevskis numbers in with the Crunch have been serviceable but he's got work to do: 21 game appearances, a 2.78 GAA and a .898 save percentage. I don't believe he'll make his NHL debut tonight, but you never know what will happen. That's especially because Desjardins numbers are comparable. Cedrick started last night in Syracuse's 3-1 loss to the Utica Comets, has 21 appearances and a 2.79 GAA along with a .901 save percentage.
If you have to go with an AHL goalie in this case, who do you start? The guy who is facing his former organization on a very quick turnaround, or the true rookie making his NHL debut on one of the grandest stages possible at Bell Centre in the city of Montreal?
The situation in Syracuse gets exceedingly murky with how things have played out in the last 12 hours - the two recalls are major, but the 5th string goalie in the system has seemingly made one glaring error and the organization hasn't taken lightly to it.
That's Syracue though, and while I do not want to be dismissive of the drama playing out there, the focus here is Tampa Bay in another crucial Flortheast match-up. The club has already conceded 4 points in the standings to two division rivals on this road trip, and to give up more ground is something the team doesn't need right now. A morale lift would sure as hell be useful right now...
Which brings me to #91, Steven Stamkos.
Just under three months ago, the Bolts first game without Stamkos was at Bell Centre in Montreal, and Tampa Bay made a declaration that they weren't giving up because of the loss of their superstar center. Eighty-one days after breaking his leg at TD Garden in Boston, is Stamkos to make his return to action? The possibility is there, with him playing sheltered minutes at best (he was taking line rushes with the fourth line yesterday during practice). While the morale boost is possible with that move, it's also a possible liability - he's out of game shape and still on the mend. The Bolts have worked in practice to deal with the absence of Val Filppula, having rookie Nikita Kucherov playing center between Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell, with Tom Pyatt paired with Nate Thompson and J.T. Brown...
But if Stamkos is in, all bets are off with this lineup for today. The only (seemingly) iron-clad line combination would appear to be the top line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Martin St. Louis.
It'll be Carey Price in net for Les Habs this afternoon... 43 appearances, a .921 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA... Those numbers are intimidating because of what we've seen on this road trip so far and knowing that whomever starts in crease of the Lightning - Desjardins, Gudlevskis, or Bishop - may not be at their prime serviceability in Tampa's own end. Solving Price is a necessity for any chance of success today.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation