TAMPA — The Lightning feared the worst with Victor Hedman’s lower-body injury, hoping and praying the franchise defenseman wouldn’t out be out long term.
So the team — and its fans — had to breathe a collective sigh of relief Friday to find out Hedman is expected to be out just three to six weeks after a knee-on-knee collision against the Flames on Thursday.
This could have been much worse.
"Of all the outcomes, possibilities of the injury, we’re somewhat relieved that it is a shorter time frame," general manager Steve Yzerman said.
Hedman’s absence still hurts Tampa Bay (31-10-3). The All-Star defenseman plays nearly half the game and in all situations. "He’s our rock back there," coach Jon Cooper said.
But Hedman’s absence is survivable, especially with the significant points cushion the Lightning has built, entering Friday with a 12-point lead in the Atlantic Division and an eight-point lead in the Eastern Conference. The last time Hedman was out for an extended period, missing a month with a broken finger in 2014, Tampa Bay went 12-4-1 and went on to the Stanley Cup final.
Yzerman said he doesn’t expect to make any callups to add a defenseman.
"We are counting on our other 7 ‘D’ to pick up the slack," he said. "Guys were waiting for more opportunity, and now they’re going to get it."
Yzerman mentioned Slater Koekkoek specifically. Also, Dan Girardi is expected back from his neck injury after the team’s five-day bye week, which began Friday.
Another good thing for the Lightning is that one of the weeks Hedman will miss is the bye week. The Lightning next plays Thursday against Vegas. His absence also covers the All-Star break from Jan. 26-29, but that means Hedman will have to miss the game in Tampa, which he was really looking forward to.
Hedman is expected back by March at the latest, which would give him a full month to get ready for the playoffs.
— Joe Smith, Tampa Bay Times
Canucks 5, Blue Jackets 2
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sven Baertschi sparked a four-goal second period for Vancouver, Jacob Markstrom had 27 saves and the Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Seth Jones put Columbus up 1-0 during a strong first period, but Vancouver power ahead in the second. Baertschi, Erik Gudbranson, Brandon Gaunce and Alexander Edler scored, and Jake Virtanen added an empty-net goal with nine seconds left in the third to help the Canucks snap a five-game skid.
Thomas Vanek and Henrik Sedin each had two assists for Vancouver, which won for just the third time since Dec. 7.
Sergei Bobrovsky let in four of the Canuck's 12 shots in the second period. He finished with 24 saves for the game. Scott Harrington also scored for Columbus.
Capitals 4, Hurricanes 3
RALEIGH, N.C. — Jay Beagle scored with 1.3 seconds remaining and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Carolina Hurricanes.
Brett Connolly notched the tying goal with 3:08 left, and Alex Ovechkin added his NHL-leading 28th goal and two assists for first-place Washington.
Lars Eller scored on the power play and Philipp Grubauer stopped 36 shots to help the Capitals earn their second come-from-behind victory in Raleigh in 10 nights. Washington won 5-4 in overtime on Jan. 2 on two late goals by Ovechkin.
The Hurricanes got power-play goals from Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho — with each player assisting on the other's goal — and an even-strength goal from Jeff Skinner.