TAMPA, Fla. — You'll hear every hockey player say it at some point about injuries.
"It's part of the game," said this time by Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier. "Some years, everything went great and nobody got hurt. Some other years, you get more injuries."
It has been one unbelievable "M*A*S*H" kind of year for the Lightning, with injuries contributing to a season that started with lofty expectations but went off the rails. But Tampa Bay is suddenly getting healthier — getting back the likes of Victor Hedman, Tom Pyatt and Ryan Shannon perhaps just in time.
"I know that you can hold on for a little while when you've got injuries, but you can't hold on forever," coach Guy Boucher said. "The first games you're on adrenaline and you're just trying to get through, and it's a survival mode and all that. It's all good, but things come down to normalcy after a while, and that's where you can't hang on anymore. It's good to see some guys back for sure — very good."
The Lightning have won four in a row going into Tuesday night's matchup with the first-place Washington Capitals, putting their confidence level high but still "humble," according to Marty St. Louis. Some of that is because they've been playing with a makeshift roster for a while.
Hedman (concussion) has been out since Dec. 23, Shannon since Dec. 21 and Pyatt since Jan. 17. Forward J.T. Wyman hasn't dressed since Jan. 5 and should play against the Caps. Top-six forward Ryan Malone and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron remain out.
"To be honest with you, I was hoping Bergeron would be be back, and I was really hoping Malone would be back," Boucher said. "It's a big hole. It's a big hole for us."
Tampa Bay has gotten accustomed to playing with holes. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund (knee) hasn't played at all this season, and forward Dana Tyrell (knee) is lost for the season.
But riding a four-game winning streak thanks to some contributions from minor league call-ups could lead to the problem of disrupting chemistry with Hedman, Shannon and Pyatt back.
"You always think about that, but it's just the reality of this sport," St. Louis said. "You always have different lineups. Sometimes you want to have the same lineup, but guys get hurt. It's just the nature of the business. Guys are used to that."
But getting a handful of players back? That's a welcome addition, still. Boucher insisted he wouldn't throw Hedman back into a key role as a top defenseman against the Caps but gradually would ease him into more playing time.
Regardless of Hedman's impact Tuesday, it's a psychological boost for a Lightning team that still has playoff aspirations.
"Of course you want your key guys playing. You got guys like Ryan Malone, of course you want him playing. It's a great help to us; he's a great leader," Lecavalier said. "Heddy, he played 28, 29 minutes a game. Of course you want him there. And Ohlie. They're not there, you've got to battle through it."
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