TAMPA -- Prior to the Tampa Bay Lightning's morning skate Thursday, coach Jon Cooper assembled the team and addressed the elephant in the room.
"We talked about Martin St. Louis," Cooper said. "I think it was only fair to acknowledge that one of the greatest players in this franchise history, if not the greatest, had been moved. But it was a 100-percent positive conversation. We explained to the players what happened and introduced Ryan Callahan, our new player."
And with that out of the way, there is no looking back for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"There has been something hanging over our team for quite some time," Cooper said. "I think, whether this was right or wrong or will help or hurt, we don't know the answer to that question today, but it has brought kind of a new life to our team. We don't know which way that will go at this point, but I think our focus now is the last 20 games and we have to win to make the playoffs."
With the playoff run looming, there could be no better time for the return of Steven Stamkos than Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. Stamkos will skate on the top line, between Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell. It will be Stamkos' first game since sustaining a broken right leg during a game Nov. 11 against the Boston Bruins.
"I'm excited. A little anxious, a little nervous, everything all in one," Stamkos told reporters Wednesday after being medically cleared to play. "It's been a long road."
But pleased as he is to get back on the ice, Stamkos knows that what he may be called on to do for the team may be different.
"Obviously, he [St. Louis] is one of the best players in the game, so you take that out of the equation and you'll have to work a little harder and maybe do things a little more on your own with regards to taking the puck up the ice," Stamkos said. "When you play with Marty you try to get the puck in his hands and get yourself open. For me, it means having the puck more and creating more chances for me and my linemates."
For Callahan it means trying to be himself and not worrying about living in St. Louis' shadow, which was the message Cooper delivered during their initial conversation.
"It was good to hear that from the head coach, but even before I spoke to him I knew I wasn't here to replace Marty St. Louis," said Callahan, who skated at right wing on a line with left wing Nikita Kucherov and center Valtteri Filppula. "They brought me in to play the way I play and to bring what I can to this team and that is how I am approaching it."
The Sabres, too, had some adjustments to make. Gone are forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick and recently acquired goalie Jaroslav Halak. In their place were forwards Cory Conacher and Torrey Mitchell and goaltender Michel Neuvirth.
Neuvirth arrived at the end of the morning skate and hurried onto the ice. Mitchell arrived too late to participate and Conacher had not arrived at all.
Buffalo coach Ted Nolan was glad to have the NHL Trade Deadline, and the stress associated with it, behind the team.
"If you look at the majority of teams they have one guy maybe that they are thinking about moving," Nolan said. "We had almost half our team in the trade mill. There were a lot of anxious moments. One of the players told me that one of the guys' hands was shaking at lunch time [Wednesday]. These guys are human, too."
Nolan might not have the playoffs to use as a motivational tool, but he let his players know there's certainly much at stake for them down the stretch.
"Our playoffs basically start today," Nolan said. "A lot of guys have contracts that are up, positions to be won. There is no such thing as there is nothing to play for. There is a lot to play for. They are playing for their livelihood. "
Here are the lineups each team likely will use Thursday:
Scratched: Zenon Konopka
Injured: Radko Gudas (lower body)