Can you play center in the NHL? Because if you can, the Tampa Bay Lightning might need you for their game tonight against the Florida Panthers.
Coach Jon Cooper announced on Saturday morning that the team will be without centers Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette for Saturday’s game after all three had to exit their 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night with lower body injuries.
With Steven Stamkos still sidelined, and Brian Boyle now playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs following a trade deadline move, it leaves the Lightning with a pretty gaping hole down the middle of their lineup as they try to play their way back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
At this point the Lightning don’t expect any of the injuries to be serious, but they still have no timetable for how long Johnson, Namestnikov and Paquette will be out. Cooper said all three will be evaluated again before Monday’s game against the New York Rangers.
Johnson’s absence is obviously the biggest one, not only because he is one of their best forwards and the pivot for the Triplets line between Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, but also because he has had to take over the No. 1 center role for most of this season with Stamkos sidelined.
This is the play that sidelined Johnson.
The Lightning are 9-2-3 in their past 14 games and enter Saturday four points back of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. A win would not only bring them a little closer to earning a postseason spot, but would also be a rather damaging blow to the Panthers’ fading playoff chances.