Tampa, Fla. — There’s Steven Stamkos walking down the hallway. Or you just missed him in the locker room.
He’s been at the team dinners.
But Stamkos isn’t the ice, where the Lightning would desperately love to him.
Stamkos had surgery to remove a blood clot near his collarbone two weeks ago, a procedure that’ll likely keep him out of the lineup for the duration of the playoffs.
A 36-goal scorer this season and unrestricted free agent this summer, it might have meant the end of Stamkos’ Lightning career.
But the Lightning captain has been around for the start of this playoff series, and his teammates love it.
“He’s our captain, our leader,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He’s one of my best friends, having played together for seven years. First and foremost, you worry about his healthy and making a 100 percent recovery.
“Hockey comes second when it comes to that stuff.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper and most of the team visited Stamkos at the hospital after his surgery.
Stamkos watched Game 1 from the Lightning locker room and has avoided any media in this series.
“He’s been stealth,” Cooper said. “He’s been around our team a lot. He was at our team dinner (on Tuesday). It’s just killing him not to be able to play.
“We want him to play and he wants to be playing. It’s not like he’s walking around with a cast. What happened with Steve is inside his body. He’s in good spirits but it’s the tough part.”
When the Lightning lost defenseman Anton Stralman (fractured leg) late in the season, there was a obviously a ripple effect with the pairings.
Stralman’s partner Hedman also had to adjust, learning to play with veteran Matt Carle.
The chemistry appears to have kicked in nicely, the pairing doing a nice job shutting down the Red Wings.
The only difference, said Hedman, was the fact Stralman is a right-handed player while Carle is a left-hander.
“It’s a bit of a difference, but we complement each other real well,” Hedman said. “We communicate a lot on and off the ice and on the bench, in between shifts.
“We’re trying to read off each other and do a good as we can and be effective defensively.”
Hedman played nearly 30 minutes in Game 1, being utilized in every situation, and appearing to have scored a goal but it was wiped out by an offside call.
For a mobile defenseman such as Hedman, forward Henrik Zetterberg said it’s important to let Hedman carry the puck.
“He’s one of the better defensemen in the league,” Zetterberg said. “He’s big, strong and skates real well. He has a big shot. You just have to be on him and stay close to him and not let him lead the rush.”
The Lightning expect the experience they gained in the playoffs last season to be a huge benefit. “Don’t get too high or low,” Hedman said. “It’ll help us to refocus and focus at the task on hand.”
…There were no changes in the Lightning lineup.