ST. PAUL, Minn. — After missing three months of action due to a broken leg, Steven Stamkos seems set to make his return to the lineup.
While that won't come on Tuesday when the Lightning play at Minnesota, Stamkos said after a full practice on Monday that included some battling drills along the wall that he expects to play on Saturday against Detroit in the final game before the Olympics. If all goes off without incident, it could clear the path for Stamkos to head to Russia on Sunday to join Team Canada for the Olympics.
“We've talked a little bit about that I'd love to be able to play the last game before the break,'' Stamkos said. “There is no secret in me trying to get back and get into at least one game before the break, so today was probably the most upbeat practice. It was a lot of up-and-down the ice some battle drills and a big step for me.''
Even if Stamkos does play on Saturday, participating with Canada is still not a certainty.
“I kind of told myself that if I didn't think I had a chance to play that I wouldn't go, so I'm still going to base it on that,'' Stamkos said. “If I am going over (to Russia) it's because I feel I can play at that level and if I don't it's because I feel that it's not ready. Again if I play Saturday and it doesn't feel great, that's going to be another conversation that we are going to have to have. At this point right now I can sit here and say that this is the best it has ever felt on the ice especially for the work load that I had on it today.
“I think (the Olympic decision) is going to come down to the wire. If I don't feel like I can play at that level, I'm not going to just go over there for the sake of going over there and possibly take someone else's spot that is healthy and can go over. So it's going to be a close call but I've said it before I keep progressing and doing everything I can to feel good and today was a great day.''
Perhaps the next step is to actually get his teammates to provide some of that physical play he needs to experience to get ready for game action. Stamkos has been cleared for that contact since last Tuesday in Toronto, when he began to wear blue- or white-colored jerseys. But on Monday, there was some tentativeness from teammates to hit him too hard as he wore a white practice jersey.
“I could see that every time he had the puck nobody wanted to go near him, so I said, 'Hey he's wearing a white jersey but he's not an egg, please somebody go ahead and hit him so let's see what we have here, ' “ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “So I think that probably helped out a little bit, I don't know how much, but at least guys bumped into him now.''
After taking two days off from skating, Stamkos made it through the entire practice on Monday, expects to skate again during Tuesday's morning skate and will get his 12-week X-ray performed on Wednesday as the final reaffirmation that the bone is healed and he can return to the ice.
“Even my last X-ray there was enough there that once I feel good I can get back to play,'' Stamkos said. “It's healed to a point now where it's strong enough to play. In talking to the doctors, it's still going to be healing for another year and it's just going to get stronger and stronger and stronger with that (titanium) rod in there.''
Though Stamkos intends to play on Saturday, there are still steps that need to be completed before that is to happen.
First he has to make it through additional practices and workouts for the next four days without incident and he has to receive final clearance from team doctors.
“We just have to differentiate where his mind is and what the doctor says,'' Cooper said. “So if the doctor says you're cleared to play then have at it, I can't write his name down fast enough. But that's what we have to wait for and I think he even knows himself that that's the protocol that has to happen. So we have to wait for that to happen, it could happen and if it does that would be awesome.''