After missing 18 games with a broken hand, Vincent Lecavalier returns for final six

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When Vincent Lecavalier was last in the lineup (Feb. 18), the Lightning were just six points out of a playoff spot with 24 games to go.

Now that he’s ready to return, the Lightning are nine points out with just six to play.

Which begs the question: Why is Lecavalier coming back?

It’s simple, says the Tampa Bay captain — he wants to play hockey.

“The guys have been working so hard, as soon as I’m ready I want to play,” Lecavalier told TampaBay.com. “Even if there’s seven, five, three games.”

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that, as the team’s captain and highest-paid player, Lecavalier has a responsibility to play so long as he’s healthy. He’s a huge part of the team — prior to getting hurt he was having a solid year (21G-25A-46PTS in 58 games) and averaging over 19 minutes per game.

Then, throw in the fact head coach Guy Boucher all but demanded a return (“Our mentality is every game we want to put our best team on the ice,” he said) and you can see why Lecavalier’s set to play Thursday against the Devils.

But there’s another way of looking at this, and it has to do with “so long as he’s healthy.” The broken bone in Lecavalier’s hand is not a new issue. He had surgery on this same non-displaced fracture last season and admitted this latest injury took longer to heal than expected.

Outside of possibly helping Steve Stamkos get to 60 goals, one has to wonder what’s the upshot for Lecavalier’s return. Though he only turns 32 in April, he’s a veteran of 14 NHL seasons, played nearly 1,000 games and has nagging hand injury. Is the risk associated with his return greater than any potential reward?