BriseBois reveals Lightning injuries during end-of-season comments

He recalled the broken fibula forward Alex Killorn suffered when he blocked a shot from the point off the stick of Jeff Petry late in the second period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with the Lightning protecting a 2-1 lead. 

“I saw the x-ray,” BriseBois said. “It was broken in two very distinct pieces all the way through.”

Killorn broke his leg on a Monday. Three days later, he had surgery to insert a rod into the damaged limb.

By Saturday, Killorn was skating on the ice in an attempt to return for Game 4 of the Cup final in a potential clinching scenario in Montreal. Killorn participated in the Bolts’ morning skate and tested his leg in warmups but determined it would be best to let a healthy Mathieu Joseph, who would go on to assist on the game-tying goal that sent the contest to overtime, skate in his place.

“That’s how you win the Stanley Cup,” BriseBois said, choking up as the words cracked out.

Tampa Bay endured one of the most mentally demanding Stanley Cups in 2020 when the team was sequestered inside bubbles between Toronto and Edmonton for 65 days, unable to go anywhere but the team hotel and the rink, away from their family, friends and fans. 

Tuesday, as BriseBois rattled off what each Lightning player suffered through to win back-to-back Cups, we learned how physically draining this latest Cup run was.

Victor Hedman played since March 30 on a torn meniscus. You might remember how it happened. In a regular season game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a puck was dumped into the offensive zone that Hedman chased after. Columbus’ defenseman Mikko Lehtonen slid down onto the ice to block a potential centering feed and upended Hedman, sending the Lightning blueliner awkwardly into the back wall. Hedman crawled on his hands and knees before being attended to by Lightning director of sports medicine Tom Mulligan and had to be helped off the ice as he couldn’t put any weight on his right leg.

Lightning fans feared the worst. Maybe only Andrei Vasilevskiy was more important to the Lightning’s title defense.

Less than five minutes later, however, Hedman was back on the ice, Bolts nation collectively exhaling.

But Hedman didn’t emerge from the play unscathed.

“He’s been playing through that (torn meniscus) ever since,” BriseBois said.

Hedman didn’t miss a game in the 2021 Playoffs and recorded two goals and 18 points, tied for third most among all NHL skaters and leading League blueliners for postseason scoring for the first time in his career.  

He had a meniscectomy Tuesday as BriseBois was speaking, and his downtime is expected to be three to four weeks.

“We’re not concerned going forward,” BriseBois said.

Barclay Goodrow and Ryan McDonagh each played throughout the playoffs with a broken hand. Goodrow missed the first five games of the playoffs with an upper-body injury. It’s unknown whether the two are related. But he notched a point in four of the five Stanley Cup Final games and was instrumental in the Bolts lifting the Cup, his third line along with Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde often the one that set the tone and overwhelmed opponents throughout the postseason.

McDonagh’s injury is remarkable considering he was one of Tampa Bay’s best players throughout the postseason, head coach Jon Cooper going so far to say he should be a dark horse candidate to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

“He’s just one of those guys that if we can win this Stanley Cup, he’s not going to get the Conn Smythe voting other people will, but he surely deserves it,” Cooper said after Game 4 in Montreal.

McDonagh ended up with three third-place votes for the Conn Smythe, finishing fourth overall in voting behind winner Andrei Vasilevskiy (82 points, 15 1st-place votes), Nikita Kucherov (60 pts., 3 1st-place votes) and Brayden Point (16 pts.).

McDonagh notched eight assists, the second most of his career in the playoffs, and was a stalwart defensively throughout.

And even though Nikita Kucherov famously said, “There was no injury. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” when the Russian forward was asked how felt returning to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinal against the New York Islanders after playing all but 46 seconds of Game 6 on Long Island, BriseBois revealed Kucherov suffered a non-displaced rib fracture after sustaining a cross-check from the Islanders Scott Mayfield on his first shift of that contest.

Kucherov played the rest of the playoffs with a flak jacket and had to get a nerve block injection the day before every game. Like Hedman, Kucherov also played in all 23 postseason games. He led the NHL playoffs for assists (24), scoring (32 pts.) and power-play scoring (19 PP pts.). Kucherov’s 32 points were the third most ever amassed by a Lightning player in the postseason and just two points off his franchise-record 34 points in 2020.

He became the first player to lead the NHL for playoff scoring in back-to-back seasons since Mario Lemieux in 1991 and 1992 and the sixth player in the NHL’s expansion era to do so.

“It makes his performance during these playoffs both before the injury and post-broken rib all the more impressive,” BriseBois said. “He’s a tough hockey player. He’s an incredible hockey player. And all of us in Bolt nation are happy that he’s our Kuch. Couldn’t be happier for him and he seemed really happy that we won as well. There isn’t a more determined player out there than Nikita Kucherov.”

BriseBois stated a handful of other players had some banged-up shoulders following the postseason. Blake Coleman came to the boat parade with his arm in a sling, but that sling was nowhere in sight by the end of the parade as he was lifting the Stanley Cup high over his head for the adoring crowd.

“Nothing of concern going forward,” BriseBois said of the various knocks Lightning players picked up on their way to going back-to-back.

BriseBois also said none of the injuries should extend beyond the offseason, meaning every Lightning player under contract will be good to go when training camp for the 2021-22 season commences.

“I think our longest rehab time is Victor Hedman, and we’re looking at 3-4 weeks,” he said. “Everyone’s expected to be good to go.”

BriseBois wanted to extend a special shoutout during his end-of-year comments to a couple different people in the organization who kept the players on the ice despite the mounting ailments. Dr. Chuck Nalley performed the nerve blocks that allowed Kucherov to play, even flying back to Tampa on three separate occasions while he and his family were out of state on vacation to inject Kucherov before returning to his family.

“So grateful for his dedication to our success and Kuch’s care.”

BriseBois also singled out Mulligan, the Bolts’ long-time head athletic trainer for his work during the pandemic summarizing the protocols for the team and diligently executing the plans to make sure the players, coaching and staff were safe.

“Big props to our players and our coaches and our support staff for being disciplined and determined and helping us prevent having a Covid outbreak, but, in particular, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all the hard work that Tom did in the last year, year-and-a-half. He’s earned a vacation and some family time because I know he hasn’t had a lot in the last 18 months.”

This Lightning team has endured so much physical and mental pain over the last two seasons to lift the Cup twice in a 282-day span. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten, their achievements a constant reminder what can be accomplished when everybody collectively has one goal in mind and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there together.

“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching them play during this playoff run,” BriseBois said. “Not only as the general manager of this organization but as a hockey fan. Obviously, such a talented group, but most importantly, so much collective heart. All of the blocked shots, all of the hits given and taken, all of the punches given and taken, all of the competing through injury, it was outstanding and so inspiring to watch on a game-in, game-out basis.”

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