Stamkos ‘progressing well’ from surgery, but it’s too early to pinpoint his return

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have been without their most prolific goal scorer since the middle of November.

Steven Stamkos was originally expected to miss at least four months after knee surgery, but with the calendar flipping to February and Tampa Bay facing an increasingly tall order of getting back into a playoff position, Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman isn’t yet committing to a specific return date for his captain.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

“It’s still, for Stammer, relatively early,” Yzerman said on the show. “Again, the procedure that he had — in the big picture — is very positive. They were able to repair the cartilage, and so far, every indication is that healing is right on course and it’s going to heal and he’s going to be fine. And that’s the best-case scenario is to repair the cartilage and you go on and you resume your career. So, that’s good. It’s still relatively early to have a date and say he’s going to be back — March 15, April 1 or whatnot. So, he’s progressing well.”

Stamkos had nine goals and 20 points in 17 games when the Bolts lost him to this latest injury. From there, the bad news for this team has continued.

Tampa Bay is in danger of missing the playoffs after making it to the Eastern Conference Final last year and the Stanley Cup Final two years ago. From injuries to difficulties on offense and defense this season, the Lightning now sit with a record of 22-23-6.

Sports Club Stats is giving the Bolts only a 6.1 per cent chance of making the post-season. Only four teams — New Jersey, Detroit, Arizona and Colorado — have less of a chance of qualifying for the playoffs, according to that site.

The Lightning host the Ottawa Senators tonight.

With time ticking in the regular season, the Bolts need to make a move up the standings, and they need to do it soon. Very soon.

“We’re really in playoff mode every night,” Yzerman said, per NHL.com. “You know how it is in the playoffs: You win a game, you’re sky-high. You lose a game, it’s the end of the world but you get ready for the next one. That’s the mode we’re in right now.”

Tampa Bay faces a very busy summer. But if they keep dropping down the standings, Yzerman and the Lightning may have to confront those difficult decisions a lot sooner than they intended.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.