Steven Stamkos Went Down. The Tampa Bay Lightning Held Their Breath.

My dog died in 2003. He was at one of those kennels with a bunch of other pooches, and apparently (I mean, I wasn’t there) he was spinning in the yard and chasing his tail while a bunch of other dogs jumped and bounced around him. And then, he hit the deck. Spasmed a little, and started foaming.

Our other dog – who was a couple years younger – was there, as well. The woman who owned the kennel told us, all the other animals stopped at once and formed a sort of respective circle around the dying dog. Our other dog stayed the closest.

They all knew what was happening. Dogs have a code, an intelligence that takes over in an instant. Hockey players, in a way, are similar. (I hope you’ll forgive the dramatic introduction.)

But that’s what I thought of yesterday, when Steven Stamkos was writhing on the ice in pain, doing his best to let the trainer know exactly what happened, exactly what he felt – you could clearly see his lips say, “It’s broken” – while still not letting everyone else know exactly how bad it could be. Let’s be realistic, but let’s not panic, either.

And his teammates crowded around him, staring down with despair and respect… but also, perhaps, some selfish, collective worry. This is their best player. This is, so far this season, the NHL’s best player. He’s potentially Canada’s most important player, because a six-game (maximum) elimination tournament on wide ice is catered and tailor-made for a player with Stamkos’s speed, his shot, and his instinct.

Stamkos is a hunter, and the Canadians need more killer instinct if they want to compete with Russia and the United States in Sochi.

(There’s also a sense of sadness around this whole thing, too, because we all know Stamkos deserved to be on that gold-medal winning squad in 2010, but was left off because the Canadians fear inexperience more than they fear anything else, and Stamkos was only in his second NHL season in 2010, even though he tied Sidney Crosby with a league-leading 51 goals that year.)

Luckily, the kid can come back from a broken tibia. He may even be able to play in the Olympics if everything goes perfectly and then some.

But a broken leg is a broken leg.

On Monday, the Lightning circled their fallen star because they knew everything had just changed.