Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev makes surprise Game 4 return

TAMPA — If there was one thing that was supposed to be certain about the Lightning’s first-round series against the Florida Panthers, it was that defenseman Mikhail Sergachev wasn’t going to be part of it.

At every turn, the Lightning scoffed at the notion Sergachev could recover from a broken left leg in time to play in the opening round. The further the Lightning advanced, the more likely it was to get Sergachev back, but certainly not against the Panthers.

But with their season on the brink, down 3-0 to the Panthers in the best-of-seven series, Sergachev made a shocking return to the ice to play in Saturday’s do-or-die Game 4.

Sergachev, who fractured the tibia and fibula in his left leg on Feb. 7, returned to game action 80 days after he was stretchered off the ice at Madison Square Garden. The typical timetable for an injury like his is no earlier than three months.

The 25-year-old has been ahead of schedule the whole time. He had surgery on Feb. 8, the morning after the injury, and started skating on March 18. He returned to practice on April 8, even though he was limited in what he could do and was wearing a red no-contact jersey.

On the day before the Lightning opened their series against the Panthers, Sergachev became a full practice participant. At that time, he said the injury was completely healed — there is a metal rod in his leg to stabilize it — and the only thing preventing him from playing was his conditioning.

Sergachev was paired with right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak in pregame rushes. The Lightning were without right-shot defenseman Darren Raddysh, who exited Game 3 early.

Sergachev makes his return when the Lightning desperately need a spark to keep their season alive.

They are down 3-0 in a postseason series for the third time in franchise history and were swept the two previous times they found themselves in this position. In the history of the league, only four teams have come back from 3-0 down to win a series, none since the 2014 Kings on their way to a Stanley Cup championship.

Sergachev said getting back for the playoffs served as motivation during his recovery.

“I do think about that,” he told The Times in March. “That serves as motivation. There’s timetables by the doctors and by the surgeon who did the surgery. I’m doing my best to beat that, to maybe come back sooner than they say, but it’s very unpredictable, these things, because you have to build muscle and muscle doesn’t get built in a day.

“But obviously, I think to myself, I want to come back as soon as possible, but I can’t really talk about time. But we’ll see. If I feel good, I’ll play. If I don’t feel confident enough that I can help the team, obviously there is no need.”

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