Still too early to peg Stamkos return date

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to need a great finish to make the playoffs, but it remains to be seen how much Steven Stamkos will be able to help.

Stamkos again skated with the Bolts this morning, but the captain was not part of line rushes and head coach Jon Cooper said it was too early to estimate his return date.

“We’re not even in a spot to sit here and throw a date on him,” Cooper said, per team beat writer Bryan Burns.

Stamkos (knee) has not played since Nov. 15. He only resumed skating last month.

Lately, the Lightning have been carried by Nikita Kucherov, who was named the NHL’s first star of the week today, and by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 31 of 32 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 OT victory in Buffalo.

Three points back of the Islanders for the second wild-card spot, and with Toronto and Florida in between, it’s estimated the Lightning will need to go around 11-5-2 in their remaining 18 games to give themselves a chance at making the playoffs.

Tampa Bay hosts the Rangers tonight, the Wild Thursday, and in a big game Saturday, the Panthers pay a visit to Amalie Arena.

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