Vatanen is listed as day to day with an upper-body injury after being hurt on a big hit by Nikita Kucherov in a 3-1 loss Wednesday night that put the Devils within a game of elimination. The 26-year-old Finn did not make the trip to Florida on Thursday, but he might join the team there.
Devils coach John Hynes didn’t give out much information about the injury before the Devils left.
"The focus right now is really on Game 5 and getting our team prepared to play and getting excited to play, and going through the video and making sure we are a better team and ready to put one of our best performances on the ice in Game 5," Hynes said at a news conference in New Jersey.
Vatanen was hurt late in the first period of the Lightning’s win when he was checked in the shoulder and head area by Kucherov. He did not return.
No penalty was called on the play and Hynes screamed at referees Tim Peel and Wes McCauley before play resumed.
The NHL reviewed the hit Thursday and no supplemental action was taken against Kucherov, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to an inquiry by The Associated Press.
Tampa Bay leads the series 3-1 and can wrap up the series at home Saturday.
"The good thing for me as a coach is that I have a lot of competitors in that room, guys with a lot of pride and guys who have had push back all year long," Hynes said. "Guys that have been counted out and all year long they have responded."
If Vatanen can’t play, the Devils can replace him with either Mirco Mueller or Steven Santini. Mueller played in the first two games of the series, while Santini started the season with the team but spent the second half in the AHL
Replacing Vatanen will not be easy. He plays in all situations.
"Sami’s a really important part of our team," Hynes said. "He’s a really good player for us, but if unfortunately he isn’t able to go, it’s next man up. We’ve said it all year long, it’s not about the guys out of your lineup, it’s about the performance of the guys in your lineup."
Vatanen has led the Devils in time on ice since being acquired from Anaheim in late November. He averaged 23:23 in the first three games of the series, but only played 6:46 on Wednesday night.