In wake of Mikhail Sergachev’s injury, Lightning face Isles

The Tampa Bay Lightning will have little time to process a potentially serious injury when they return to action Thursday night against the New York Islanders in Elmont, N.Y.

During the Lightning’s 3-1 road loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, Tampa Bay defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was stretchered off due to a left leg injury.

Sergachev tried to deliver a hit to Rangers left winger Alexis Lafreniere with about 13 minutes left in the second period, but Sergachev’s leg got stuck under him as he fell when Lafreniere hit back.

Sergachev had just returned Wednesday after missing 17 games due to a leg injury.

“That was terrible — it was terrible,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “I feel awful for him. It clearly affected our team for a little bit. Those ones are tough.”

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos added regarding the injury, “You feel sick to your stomach. Obviously, Sergey has put in a lot of time and effort to come back from his original injury, and to see something pretty traumatic like that happen from someone who has been through that, it’s tough. Tough to watch.”

The Lightning will attempt to return their focus to the rivalry with the Islanders, as the teams engaged in two taut battles in the NHL semifinals during the pandemic-shortened seasons.

In the shorter term, the Islanders and Lightning are bonded by their small margins as they try to get into position to again mount another deep playoff run.

The Islanders have been off since Monday, when they returned from the All-Star break with a 3-2 win over the host Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Islanders, who haven’t won a playoff series since their consecutive trips to the NHL’s final four in 2020 and ’21, are four points behind the third-place Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division as well as four points behind the Detroit Red Wings, who occupy the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

New York is 2-2-1 under Patrick Roy, who replaced the fired Lane Lambert as head coach on Jan. 20. Each of the five games has been decided by one goal.

The Islanders squandered a pair of one-goal leads Monday and appeared headed for another overtime — they lead the NHL with 18 games decided beyond regulation — before Pierre Engvall scored the game-winner with 2:02 remaining to give New York a three-game season sweep of the Maple Leafs.

“Out of the break, you want to start strong,” Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock said following his return from a 24-game absence caused by a lower-body injury. “We know that we’re going to have to put some points together to get into the playoffs. (Monday) was the first step in doing that.”

The Lightning — who won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 before falling to the Colorado Avalanche in the finals in 2022 and losing to the Maple Leafs in the first round last spring — slipped from third place in the Atlantic Division into the East’s top wild-card spot on Wednesday. While Tampa Bay was falling to the Rangers, Toronto was registering a 5-4 win over the Dallas Stars.

Tampa Bay is five points ahead of the ninth-place Islanders in the conference standings. The two teams will play three times in the next seven weeks.

The Lightning showed some signs of rust on Wednesday as they had their three-game winning streak snapped. Tampa Bay, playing its first game since Jan. 27, collected just 19 shots — its third-lowest total of the season — and couldn’t climb out of a 2-0, second-period hole.

“They had a little bit more in the tank than we did at the end,” Cooper said. “They just made a couple more plays that we couldn’t make. I thought we got a little bit tired as that game went on.”

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