TORONTO - Tampa Bay Lightning centre Brad Richards left Monday's 6-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs with an apparent left leg injury.
Richards crashed into the corner boards behind the Leafs net at 7:32 of the second period after battling Toronto defenceman Tomas Kaberle and lunging at a loose puck. Richards stayed down on the ice for two to three minutes and had to be helped off the ice while favouring his left leg. He did not return to the game.
"Obviously, he's a big part of our team," said Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier. "Any time you lose a key player and a leader, it's definitely tough.
Richards' status was unclear after the game, but the Lightning were optimistic the injury wasn't serious.
The team's public-relations staff said it was contemplated that Richards would return for the third period, but the club decided to take the cautious approach.
"You know, it was 4-1 for Toronto (to start the third period), it's good he stayed off and hopefully he'll be better for tomorrow," Lecavalier said.
Richards was unavailable for comment after the game, but was set to travel with the team to Montreal, where the Lightning face the Canadiens Tuesday at the Bell Centre.
"Any time you lose a top player like that, it's hard," said Tampa defenceman Brad Lukowich. "But it's an opportunity for someone to step up and take over some of those big minutes . . . if he is out for a while, if that's the case."
Richards has 28 points (10-18) in 30 games this season and is averaging more than 25 minutes per game in ice time.
The 27-year-old native of Murray Harbour, P.E.I., has missed only two games in total in his first six NHL seasons, both in 2002-03.