Steven Stamkos joined the Lightning at practice on Tuesday, the first time in a month he’d skated with his teammates.
The Tampa captain has been out with a lower-body injury since April 8 and said he believes he’ll be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next weekend. After joining the team for Friday’s morning skate, Stamkos said there’s “light at the end of the tunnel right now.”
“The goal has always been to be ready come Game 1 of the playoffs and everything has been trending in that direction so that’s exciting,” Stamkos said. “I’m feeling much better, I’m definitely in a better place than I was a couple of weeks ago.”
Stamkos said he’ll disclose what type of injury he’s been dealing with at a later time, but head coach Jon Cooper pointed out it’s not related to the core muscle injury that limited Stamkos to one game during last summer’s Cup run.
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“I’ll get into more of the details once the season’s over, but when you’ve had the surgeries that I’ve had in the past, on the leg, the knee, the core, it’s all connected,” Stamkos said.
The Lightning won’t just be getting their captain back in the playoffs, they’ll also be welcoming back their biggest offensive weapon in Nikita Kucherov, who’s missed all season following hip surgery.
“The big thing for these guys is them getting their stamina,” Cooper said earlier this week. “That’s what they need and when you’re cleared for contact and it’s kind of irrelevant, because there’s not really a whole lot of contact going on in any of these [skates], but it’s getting their stamina going right now.”
Tampa has three games left in their regular season beginning with Friday against Dallas. After finishing up Tuesday against the Panthers, they’ll have a number of days to rest up and ensure Stamkos and Kucherov can be ready for the start of the First Round. The playoffs will begin Saturday, May 15, but a schedule will not be announced until after series matchups are known.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.