Steven Stamkos likely out until March with injury

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is expected to miss four months after undergoing surgery to repair the lateral meniscus of his right knee.

Lightning star undergoes surgery on right knee

Another injury will force Steven Stamkos to miss four months (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is expected to miss four months after undergoing surgery to repair the lateral meniscus of his right knee.

The injury happened in Tuesday night's game against the Detroit Red Wings halfway through the first period in a collision with Detroit's Gustav Nyquist. 

Stamkos limped off the ice and did not return.

Lightning have done it before

Given the choice, defenceman Victor Hedman and the Lightning would prefer not being thrust into the position of having to once again prove they're capable at succeeding without Stamkos.

The only real consolation is knowing the Lightning have done it before.

"You live in this reality now, and we've just got to have to face it," Hedman said Thursday before the Lightning defeated the Sabres 4-1 in Buffalo. "It'll be a good test for us. But at the same time, we know we can handle it, and we know we can win hockey games even though we're going to miss him."

Cooper remains positive

Coach Jon Cooper remains confident in his club despite the loss of their captain.

"If we put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs, he's going go to be back," Cooper said. "And that'll be better than any trade deadline acquisition than anybody else is going to get."

The challenge now is for the Lightning to make the post-season without the two-time NHL scoring champion and the team's on- and off-ice leader.

"You've got to take your head out of the sand, dig your heels in and march on," Cooper said. "And unfortunately, this has happened to us before and the guys have found a way."

A familiar feeling

In 2013-14, Stamkos missed 45 games with a broken right leg. The Lightning went 22-18-5 without him and still reached the playoffs before being eliminated in the first round.

Cooper was a rookie head coach that season and still recalls the dread he felt when Stamkos was hurt in November 2013.

The only difference this time is being able to draw upon that experience.

"The more you're put in the situation, unfortunately, the better equipped you are to handle it, so we'll see how we do," Cooper said. "Yes, we are going to miss him dearly. But like I've said, our season is not over by no means."

Lightning full of depth

The Lightning have plenty of talented depth on a lineup that returned the team's top 13 scorers and both goalies from last season.

It's a group that includes Hedman, forward Ryan Callahan and Nikita Kucherov, who leads the team and is second in the league with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists). 

"I think that's one of our strengths in how deep we are and the amount of talent we have in our lineup," Callahan said. "By no means are we not going to miss [Stamkos]. I mean, you lose a guy like that and it's going to affect you. But the way we're built, how deep we are, you can help absorb some of that."

With files from The Associated Press