Anton Stralman appears to be inching closer to returning for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he won’t be available for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday night. His team is set to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third round, but the veteran defenseman isn’t quite ready to go yet despite taking part in practices earlier this week.
The defender has reportedly starting taking contact during drills, but Stralman still can’t get into game action for the Lightning. He broke his leg on March 25 and it was immediately clear that he’d miss the rest of the regular season. Earlier this month head coach Jon Cooper said that it was baffling that the 29-year-old wasn’t available yet, but the Lightning have continued to win playoff games without the puck mover.
It’s unclear if Stralman will be ready to play in Game 2 yet, but the progress he’s made this week much be encouraging for Tampa and its staff.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound defenseman has played in 549 regular season games throughout his nine-year career, notching 36 goals and adding 149 assists as well. Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the seventh round of the 2005 entry draft, Stralman was a bit of a late bloomer but joined the Lightning in 2014 as a sought after free agent.
He’s evolved into an important part of Tampa’s blue line, typically playing alongside Victor Hedman and forming one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL. Hedman has been getting it done without his usual partner so far in these playoffs, but there’s no doubt that the Lightning are a better team when Stralman is in the lineup.
While the Lightning managed to take care of business against the Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders in the first and second rounds, the Penguins are a different beast entirely. They are much deeper than either of the teams that Tampa has disposed of so far, and getting Stralman back will be a huge boost to the team. It’s just a matter of when he’s ready to go at this point, but it seems like that point could be coming sooner rather than later.