Lightning's Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette injured

TAMPA, Fla. -- The day began with superstar Lightning center Steven Stamkos pushing hard in yet another skating session as he tries to come back before the end of the season from a serious knee injury.

The night ended with three other centers joining him on the sidelines.

Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette all left Thursday night's 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild with lower-body injuries, all three of them needing help to get off the ice.

On Friday, the team announced that all three were day-to-day.

"If we got one of them for Saturday, that would be a blessing," coach Jon Cooper Thursday said after the game.

The surging Lightning are 9-2-3 since Feb. 4 as they attempt to reel in a playoff spot, something that seemed unheard of five to six weeks ago. They're four points behind Toronto for the last wild-card spot in the East and next face rival Florida on Saturday night.

But now they're hobbling and thin at center, having traded away centers Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle prior to the deadline last week before losing the three centers Thursday night to injury.

Johnson would be the most pressing concern. He is the most talented of the three players hurt, centering the top line between Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

Johnson went down in the second period after being hit along the boards by Wild forward Nino Niederreiter, his leg getting caught in the hit. He left the ice favoring his left leg.

Just moments earlier in the second period, Namestnikov went down after an awkward collision with Wild forward Zach Parise. Namestnikov was clutching his left leg before being helped off.

Paquette made it the hat trick when his left leg buckled under the weight of Niederreiter falling on him in the third period.

The Lightning were down to just eight forwards, having begun the game with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, but hung on to beat a very good Wild team.

"If I was to look back on the season, we have 31 wins, it takes character to win them all. But if you're going to put this one up there, especially that last 12 minutes or so, you're playing with limited players,'' said Cooper. "But they were responsible -- it was gritty, it was gutty, they were doing all the right things.''

Star defenseman Victor Hedman, who scored his 13th goal of the season, echoed his coach's comments.

"Obviously seeing guys go down puts a lot of pressure on the other guys, and it's never fun to see, watching guys in pain and getting carried off like that,'' he said.

"So we got to give props to all the forwards tonight. They were playing a really good opponent. They kept their shifts short. Did things simple most of the night. It was a real team effort. This is one of those games that you really need to come through as a team. We really did tonight, really proud of the guys."

Expect the Lightning to announce an AHL call-up or two Friday. But the greatest addition of all would be getting their captain back before the end of the season.

Stamkos skated yet again Thursday, both by himself and then joining his teammates for the morning skate, as he continues in his efforts to recover from a serious right knee injury suffered Nov. 15.

But just when exactly will he be back? The Lightning aren't sure yet.

"That's hard for me to say," Cooper said after Thursday's morning skate. "All I know is that every report we're getting on him has been positive. There haven't been setbacks. He was given quite a window of the four to six months [for his recovery], we're in that window -- it's still probably, I would say, early in that window. But he's progressing well. But there's no time frame. ...

"The fact that he's out here, around our team more -- he's been coming on the road with us, he's at some of these lighter skates -- it's just really good to have him around," added Cooper.

Just having him around the team again has been uplifting.

"It's awesome," said Hedman. "He's the leader of this team. He's been through a lot obviously with his leg -- you know, last year with his blood clot, this year with his knee. But he's so good in the locker room and around the guys. He always brings a positive attitude. It's been tough, you know that as a friend, you know it's been tough for him. He got off to such a great start and was playing some of the best hockey he's played.

"We'll see what's going to happen down the road," Hedman said. "It has to take the time it takes for that kind of injury to heal and feel 100 percent. But it's obviously very nice to see him out there."