Injured Tampa Bay Lightning D Victor Hedman stepped onto the ice for Thursday’s morning skate, showing little to no limitations from the lower body injury that kept him out of the past three games.
Hedman also will miss Thursday’s home game against Pittsburgh, but a return to the lineup by the weekend has not been ruled out. He could play Saturday at Washington, the first game of a four-game road trip.
“I really want to play and I’ll do whatever it takes to win, but if I’m not 100 percent, or at least 90 percent, I would do more harm than good for the team on the ice,’’ Hedman said. “I need to be game ready. I’m not tonight, so I won’t play.’’
Hedman skated on his own the past few days, but joined the team Thursday for the first time since leaving after the first period in Carolina on March 4. His absence has been noticeable, but head coach Jon Cooper said the team has managed the void.
“I don’t think we’ve had big-time breakdowns on (defense) and I think we’ve been OK,” Cooper said. “It’s hard. You pull out a 6-foot-6 skating defenseman who can add something all over the ice …those guys are hard to replace. But I think we’ve done a good job. I think (Eric Brewer) has stepped up for us and done an unbelievable job. Sami (Salo) has been great. (Matt) Carle, all these guys have taken on more minutes. Then the kids we’ve put in there …they’ve done a great job.’’
No lineup changes Cooper will use the same lineup against Pittsburgh as he fielded Tuesday against Ottawa, which means LW Benoit Pouliot, C Tom Pyatt and RW Dana Tyrell will be scratched.
Pyatt and Pouliot have been staples throughout the season when healthy, but Cooper is using the final games of the season to see how others figure into long-term plans.
“I wouldn’t read too much into those guys,’’ Cooper said. “We are just caught between that we are trying to win, trying to win, trying to win – but we are also trying to see what guys can handle this or what guys can play next year. So, it’s tough to balance, because you are not walking into the locker room and saying we are playing these 10 American Leaguers and all these vets are out.
“But I’ve approached some of these guys and told them this is where we are at as an organization; this is for all of us. We are just looking at different guys in different roles, and we don’t think our team is losing that much of a step by putting some of these younger guys in the situation they are in.’’
Cooper indicated all three players would see some playing time in the final eight games.
“It’s just their turn in the fire right now and they are being unreal soldiers, staying positive,’’ Cooper said. “I know they don’t like it, but for right now, what we feel is best for us to win tonight and what is best for the organization in the future, this is what has to happen.’’
Cut for the cure Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier held his annual Cut for the Cure campaign on Wednesday night, with a handful of teammates joining him to have their heads shaved to raise money for cancer research.
Among those sporting a new hairstyle on Thursday were RW Teddy Purcell, LW Alex Killorn, RW B.J. Crombeen and Carle.
“It was a pretty eye-opening experience and if we can help raise some money to help support a great cause, it’s always good to be a part of that,’’ said Crombeen, a first-time participant. “I was happy to help out and do anything I could to help for a great cause.’’
Donations can be made through May 4 by visiting the Vinny Lecavalier Foundation website at www.vinny4.org and clicking on the donate link on the homepage.
Nuts and Bolts G Ben Bishop will make his fifth consecutive start since being acquired from Ottawa. Bishop sported a plain white mask for part of Thursday’s morning skate, but switched midway through to the Senators mask he has worn since arriving in a trade a week ago. …Pittsburgh D Kris Letang will play after missing the past six games with a lower body injury. …Tomas Vokoun is scheduled to start in goal for Pittsburgh.