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Poll: Who will win the Southeast Division?

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The Southeast Division was the closest in the NHL last season, with only 12 points separating the last place Carolina Hurricanes and first place Florida Panthers. Going into the 2012-13 campaign, the race for the division title seems equally open.

So, as an extension of this being Lightning day, we’re passing along the question to you. However, before we do that, let’s take a quick look at the arguments for each team.

Why the Florida Panthers could win: They did it last season and have only gotten stronger. Yes, Jason Garrison’s gone, but Peter Mueller was a great diamond in the rough pickup and this might be the year that Jonathan Huberdeau breaks into the NHL. Who knows if they’ll end up acquiring Roberto Luongo, but their current combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, with Jacob Markstrom ready to take over should an injury occur, is pretty solid.

Why the Washington Capitals could win: If Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green stay healthy, then the Capitals are a pretty imposing team. It would certainly help if Alex Ovechkin bounces back, but even in a bad season he gets 30-40 goals. They have a pair of promising young goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. There’s also plenty to like about their summer acquisition of Mike Ribeiro and their decision to name Adam Oates as their new head coach.

Why the Tampa Bay Lightning could win: I don’t think I really need to sell you on Tampa Bay’s top-six forwards. Last season they bet on Dwayne Roloson having one more good year left in him and that didn’t work out. They’ve adapted over the summer by getting two young goaltenders in Anders Lindback and Riku Helenius. They also bolstered their defense to help balance the squad.

Why the Winnipeg Jets could win: The Jets were a team that had to make huge adjustments last season and that won’t be an issue this time around. They have two of league’s the best offensive defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. Their top goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, was terribly inconsistent last season, but he’s still young and might bounce back. Plus there’s always a chance that Evander Kane meshes with Olli Jokinen or just otherwise takes another step towards stardom.

Why the Carolina Hurricanes could win: Uniting Jordan and Eric Staal is a move that should pay dividends this season. Jordan has a lot of offensive potential and should shine if given the opportunity to play with his brother on the top line. Another one of their major off-season acquisitions, Alexander Semin, is more of a gamble, but if he bounces back after two rough seasons, then the Hurricanes will have a very effective one-two-three attack. That’s not even getting into their solid supporting cast led by Jeff Skinner and their goaltender Cam Ward, who was dominant after the All-Star break.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…

Parise rehabbing back injury without surgery, ‘no question’ he’ll play in World Cup

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 17:  Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 17, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Wild 7-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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EDINA, Minn. (AP) Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise has been rehabilitating his back injury without surgery, putting him on track to be at full strength by September.

Parise said Thursday he’s “happy with the way everything’s going.” He said he’s been able to work out as he normally does during the summer, despite missing the playoffs because of the injury.

Parise said there’s “no question” he’ll be ready to play for Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey tournament.

Parise joined teammates Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Jason Zucker at an autograph signing to raise money for people affected by the wildfires in Alberta. The parents of Spurgeon’s wife, Danielle, lost their home to a fire in the Edmonton area.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning at Penguins, Game 7

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Alex Killorn #17 of the Tampa Bay Lightning falls to the ice at the net against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Not much more to say than this:

GAME 7.

Puck drop is at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, but you can also catch the game online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:

It’s been a ‘roller coaster’ — Pens, Bolts ready for Game 7

Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay