With Anton Stralman on the shelf, Tampa's defense will suffer

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Will a key injury derail the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: Two weeks from today we'll be pondering playoff matchups and regular-season failures, and two plays from this past weekend could have dramatic implications for the postseason. On Friday, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman suffered a fractured left fibula and is out indefinitely. Can you say "crushing"? The Lightning were whipped by the Florida Panthers on Saturday, reinforcing how important Stralman is to Tampa's fortunes and pushing the Lightning back into second place in the Atlantic Division. On Saturday, Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux was toppled into the boards by Martin Hanzal late in a loss to the Arizona Coyotes. It looked ugly, but Giroux is expected to play in a key game Monday when the Flyers entertain the Winnipeg Jets. The Flyers are tied with the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they also have a game in hand. Philly is already missing goaltender Michal Neuvirth for the rest of the regular season, and had Giroux been lost, it would have been a significant blow to the Flyers' playoff chances. Does Stralman's loss alter your belief in the Bolts' ability to march long into the spring? Does Giroux's continued place in the Flyers' lineup change your thoughts about their ability to squeeze into an unlikely postseason berth?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: As I tweeted Friday night, to me the Lightning with a healthy roster posed the greatest threat to Washington's potential march to the Stanley Cup finals. But without Stralman, I'm a bit shaken in that belief. Not only is he's a mammoth fixture on Tampa's top D-pairing and a key on special teams, but this is a team that tried all season before the trade deadline to acquire another top-four, right-handed defenseman because the Bolts felt they had a glaring need there. Imagine that hole now with their top right-handed defenseman out. Mercy. Teams overcome injuries. I think the Lightning can do that, but that's about as brutal an injury both in terms of the importance of the player and the specific role he plays that I can imagine for any club in the Eastern Conference. Just brutal.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: Stralman has been a postseason regular now for the past several years. In the past four playoff years, he has played in 20, 10, 25 and 26 postseason games. That's a ton for a player who's not on the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks, and I don't think it's a coincidence. Stralman is such a steady presence on defense and an absolutely huge loss for the Lightning, a team that isn't exactly overloaded with right-handed shots on defense. Now, I don't think it spells doom for Tampa's postseason hopes, because everybody will have to deal with some kind of injury. Scott, you mentioned the Flyers fighting through injuries. The Penguins have been great without Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta, while the Rangers survived a long stretch without Rick Nash. The best teams find a way. Aside from maybe Victor Hedman, though, I'm not sure you could have picked a worse guy to go down for the Lightning.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: It will be a huge loss for the Lightning if Stralman is not available at any point during the Stanley Cup playoffs. That's not an easy injury to come back from, either. His presence, along with defensive partner Victor Hedman, is a big reason Tampa enjoyed a Cup-final run last spring. As Craig mentioned, Stralman has the postseason experience and the Lightning need that on the blue line, but also in the dressing room. He's one of those players who stands front and center after games whether the team wins or loses. The best teams win in the playoffs even without some of their best players, and that should be the case with the Lightning.

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