TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning received the best possible trade-deadline acquisition Wednesday morning: Steven Stamkos is cleared to play.
Stamkos received final clearance to return to the lineup following an X-ray and discussion with team physician Dr. Ira Gutentag and will be in the lineup when Tampa Bay opens a six-game homestand on Thursday against Buffalo.
“I’m very excited,’’ Stamkos said. “I was fairly confident going into it, but I still tried not to think about it too much. But I was hoping to be cleared and I was.’’
The news came the same day team captain Marty St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers for captain Ryan Callahan and conditional draft picks, meaning the last game the two played together came on the same day Stamkos sustained a broken tibia Nov. 11 when he crashed into a goal post during a game at Boston.
“It’s bittersweet,’’ Stamkos said of his pending return. “I’m obviously very excited about getting the opportunity to play and I was looking forward to getting back with Marty and playing.’’
Originally expected to be out three to six months, Stamkos pushed to be ready for the Olympics, but did not receive clearance and had to withdraw from Team Canada on Feb. 6.
He underwent another exam Feb. 24 hoping to be ready to return, but took the extra two weeks to assure the bone was fully healed.
Now he knows he needs to get past his first couple of shifts.
“Guys in practice are not going to hit you like you are hit in a game situation; that’s a hurdle that mentally I will have to get over to know that physically you are going to be OK,’’ Stamkos said. “That will probably take a couple of shifts and get a couple of hits under the belt to get that out of the way, but I’ve been pain free on the ice for a while now and that’s a good feeling.’’
His return will provide a big boost to the lineup.
“I think we still made the best acquisition of the trade deadline, Stammer is going to help us tremendously,’’ defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He scored 60 goals two years ago and we know what kind of a player he is, so we are very excited to see Steven back on the ice.’’