Everything Anton Stralman does is somewhat understated. His play on the ice isn’t flashy. He just seems to be in the right place doing the right thing. Even off the ice, Stralman doesn’t do anything to incite headlines. Like admitting to playing on a still-broken leg.
In a Tampa Bay Times article about his chemistry with teammate Victor Hedman carrying over to the World Cup of Hockey, Stralman admitted that, "My leg was still broken. It wasn’t great. It was solid enough to play with, but it’s always hard." Not to play to the stereotypes of the toughness of hockey players, but that is pretty impressive.
It also shows how everything said during the playoffs in regards to injuries, should be taken with a grain of salt. It was obvious that Stralman wasn’t back to usual self. Something didn’t just look right while he was on the ice and it was more than just being thrown into a tight playoff series after two months of not playing.
Should it have been obvious that he wasn’t 100% based on what was being reported at the time?
A quick timeline of the quotes about Stralman’s injury:
March 25th - Anton Stralman falls in front of the net and fractures his leg (video of the play in link). Twitter speculation on his absence ranges from "indefinite" to "month-to-month".
April 4th - Steven Stamkos has surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder. Lightning fans begin their wailing and gnashing of teeth as they face the playoffs without their leading goal scorer and second best defenseman.
April 17th - Stralman is no longer using crutches and is out of the cast, however, despite traveling with the team he is not expected to play in the first round of the playoffs.
April 29th - The five week mark has arrived and Stralman is, "not near ready yet". He is skating by himself (cue images of a lonely Stralman skating in a half-lit Amalie Arena with sad saxophone music playing in the background). Five weeks was the most optimistic timetable for his return. It looks like the Lightning will be relying on Matt Carle for a little longer.
May 7th - Coach Cooper is "baffled" by the injury. While stressing that there is no setback, the injury is taking longer to heal than originally thought.
May 15th - Tom Jones writes that "you couldn’t tell that he fractured his leg seven weeks ago". The coach adds that he’s "definitely day to day" and when "you’re looking at him right now in practice, you wouldn’t even think he’s hurt." Stralman would play the next game.
May 17th - According to the Times, the Swede’s return boosted the team even though they lost in overtime (when Stralman was caught out of position and beat by Sidney Crosby for the game winner). He played almost 19 minutes and Hedman said that he "looked like he hadn’t missed a beat".
Stralman vaguely answered a question about the pain level by stating, "It’s about feeling good skating, and playing, pain or no pain. It’s about feeling confident and comfortable, doing what you have to do." Looking back, that sounds like a man playing on a leg that isn’t fully healed , but doing what he needs to do for the team.
May 26th - Lightning lose 2-1 to the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals (the first Game 7 loss in Stralman’s career). Going into the game Stralman was quoted as saying, "It’s maybe not so much of a game of skill, it’s more of determination, and will, and smartness. He could just as easily be speaking about his comeback. In six games
Stralman averaged 20 minutes of ice time, scored one goal and finished a -2. He also blocked 4 shots, which might be the most impressive stat. Imagine using your body to block a shot knowing that your leg isn’t 100% healed.
At the time, it seemed like it took forever for Stralman to recover from a broken leg. Yet, in hindsight, going from a fractured tibia to playing in an Eastern Conference Final in less than two months seems like rushing back.
In the moment, fans were looking for any hope that he would be back, especially against the Penguins. In their eagerness they were willing to overlook some signs that maybe he wasn’t fully healed. To go from being "baffled" as to why Stralman wasn’t further along with his rehab to 8 days later not thinking he was ever injured seems a bit of a stretch.
Looking back perhaps expectations should have been tempered a bit more in thinking that his return would swing the tide of the series.
With a summer of rehab completed and a couple of weeks of live-game action in the World Cup Stralman should be close to 100% when the season begins in October. Hopefully there are no lingering issues as he needs to be the steady, unnoticed force on the blueline should the Lightning continue their push to a Stanley Cup.