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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Stamkos loss is toughest break of all

TAMPA — They were sickening, those replays.

The leg hitting the goal post. The post winning.

The stretcher on the ice, a successful Lightning season being hauled away.

Steven Stamkos recovered from surgery Tuesday in Boston as his team played in Montreal. What else do you need to know?

Wouldn’t you know it: They look like they finally have a goaltender. Last week, I wrote that if the Lightning had one of those, it was a good season, no matter what else happened.

Only I didn’t know this was going to be the What Else.


The Bolts were off to a 12-4 start, leading their new division. So help me Gordie Howe, they even won in Detroit against the Red Wings for the first time in nearly 20 years.

And now Stamkos, their best player, one of the brightest stars in the NHL, is possibly out for the season. He was on an MVP pace, atop the league in goals and points. Now he’s recovering.

No season? Definitely no Olympics.


Maybe Stamkos makes it back for the playoffs. Right. As if the Lightning make it without him.

The Bucs won their first game Monday night. Rays outfielder Wil Myers was named American League Rookie of the Year on Monday night.

You still went back to Monday afternoon, another young star, crumpled on the ice.

Just as the Lightning appeared to be getting back on their feet, Stamkos is off his. Given what No. 91 means to the Bolts, it’s the most devastating injury in Tampa Bay sports history.

There was 1978, when the Bucs emerged from the 0-26 mist to go 4-4 with rookie quarterback Doug Williams — then Williams’ jaw was broken against the Rams. That was that.

There was 2012, when Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was lost for half a season. That cost his team the postseason.

But this seemed more cruel.

After two dreadful seasons, the Lightning had shown signs of life.

Now Jon Cooper will get to prove just how smart a coach and how good a motivator he is. Now Marty St. Louis’ first year as captain has an early acid test.

And it’s impossible not to think about the 23-year-old Stamkos and the kind of person he has been since he arrived here in 2008.

It goes beyond the hardware he has won, or the 222 goals.

He has always been forthright and accountable. I can still remember when he was struggling mightily during the early part of the 2011 playoffs, still his only taste. He made no excuses. He met with reporters each and every day, never backing away, never hiding.

After last season, Stamkos talked about how goals and points weren’t enough, he wanted more from his seasons, more from his game. He accepted his new mission statement, to be more of a two-way player, and he was doing just that, flying back on defense, when he slammed that post.

Can the Lightning win without him?

That’s hard to believe.

Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins made it to the playoffs in 2011 without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. (They lost to the Lightning in the opening round). The Ottawa Senators made it to the playoffs last season despite losing their top forward (Jason Spezza), defenseman (Erik Karlsson) and goalie (Craig Anderson) for gaping amounts of time.

But right about now, you wonder if Lightning GM Steve Yzerman wishes he hadn’t dispatched top Bolts draft pick Jonathan Drouin to the minors for the season, no return trip allowed.

People have to step up. Like Marty. Like Valtteri Filppula, though I’m sure Filppula never figured he’d have to replace Vinny Lecavalier and Stamkos. It’s up to guys like Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn and even Brett Connolly.

Oh, who are we fooling?

Hope was carried off Monday afternoon.

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