Lightning’s Stamkos ‘inching his way closer’ to returning to play

[UPDATE: Stamkos has returned for Game 3.]

Jon Cooper has added “Stanley Cup playoff game” promoter to his job title with each injury update he provides the media.

Asked whether Steven Stamkos could return to the Lightning for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday, the head coach gave his usual “you’ll have to tune in and find out” response. He did say, however, the captain was “inching his way closer” to making a return.

Stamkos has yet to play during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs but has skated recently and participated in optional practices and morning skates. He was on the ice Sunday, one day after the Lightning lost Game 1 to the Stars, 4-1. Stamkos suffered a lower-body injury before summer training camp opened in mid-July.

“You don’t get this many chances to be where we are and he wants to be a part of it, which he has,” Cooper said. “He’s collectively helped the group on the mental side of things, but he wants to be part of it on the ice as well. We’re not sure when that’ll be. We’re hopeful he’ll come back at some point in this series, but there’s no way we can tag that. When he’s not on the ice, he’s been an influential leader off the ice.

“I guess there’s always a chance [he’s available for Game 2], but as of now, I don’t think so.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stamkos last played Feb. 25 and had surgery to repair a core muscle injury in early March.

The Lightning has been doing well in his absence, but would love to add Stamkos as they look to win four more games and the Stanley Cup.

“If [he plays], you have to make sure the player’s conditioned enough,” said Cooper said of his captain. “You need guys to be able to contribute. He wouldn’t want that, either. Nobody wants to go into a game and sit on the bench the whole time. You have to be ready to play minutes and contribute. But we have a full medical staff, and Steven will be the first to tell you if he can go or not. If that time comes, he’ll be put in to play, not just sit on the bench.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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