One day after the Tampa Bay Lightning traded their captain to the New York Rangers, their superstar center returns against the Buffalo Sabres at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday. Stamkos will be in the lineup for the first time since breaking his leg in a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11. He has 14 goals in 17 games this season.
"I'm excited, a little anxious, a little nervous, everything all in one," Stamkos told the Lightning website Wednesday. "It's been a long road. It's been tough, but I think time heading in [to see the doctor] I was the most confident going in there knowing how I felt on the ice, off the ice, what I needed to do in order to get cleared to play, the tests I needed to go through, and everything felt great."
Here's a closer look at the action Thursday:
Washington Capitals at Boston Bruins -- Dustin Penner's debut with the Capitals did not go as planned. Washington fell behind 4-0 and eventually lost 6-4 to the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Jaroslav Halak could make his Capitals debut Thursday after his short stay with the Buffalo Sabres. The Bruins added some experience to their injury-depleted defense by trading for Andrej Meszaros on Wednesday. Meszaros had 17 points in 38 games for the Flyers this season and will help make up for the absences of Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid.
Los Angeles Kings at Winnipeg Jets -- Desperately needing another goal scorer, the Kings acquired Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday. Gaborik is a three-time 40-goal scorer who has fought the injury bug this season but had 14 points in 22 games for Columbus. The Jets announced Wednesday that center Mark Scheifele sustained an MCL sprain in the team's 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. Winnipeg also signed defenseman Mark Stuart to a four-year, $10.5 million contract.
Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Sabres followed the huge trade with the St. Louis Blues last week that saw goalie Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott moved by also parting ways with the goalie they got back in that trade, Halak, as well as forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick and defenseman Brayden McNabb on Wednesday. Michal Neuvirth, acquired from the Washington Capitals for Halak, joins Jhonas Enroth as the new goalie tandem and the Sabres also grabbed forward Cory Conacher off waivers Wednesday. Stamkos returns and a new chapter in the history of the Lightning begins after Martin St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers on Wednesday for Ryan Callahan in a swap of team captains. The Lightning are beginning a six-game homestand.
Colorado Avalanche at Detroit Red Wings -- The Avalanche are 13-5-0 in their past 18 games, 17-6-1 in their past 24 and have the most wins (16) and points (33) in the League since Dec. 31. Colorado added depth in goal Wednesday by landing Reto Berra in a deal with the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, Detroit sent forward Patrick Eaves, prospect Calle Jarnkrok and a third-round draft pick (which becomes a second-round pick if the Red Wings make the playoffs) to the Nashville for Legwand, a Grosse Pointe, Mich., native who played his entire 15-year career with the Predators.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Chicago Blackhawks -- Columbus, 15-6-1 since New Year's Day, has responded to a three-game winless streak with three straight victories. The Blue Jackets remain solidly in the mix for the postseason, led by Artem Anisimov, who scored twice against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday and has the game-winning goal in each game of the current winning streak. Chicago lost 4-2 at home against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday and lost ground in the Central to the third-place Avalanche and first-place St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks are without forward Marian Hossa, who is expected to miss 2-3 weeks with an upper-body injury.
St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators -- The Blues will go for a third straight victory since trading for goaltender Ryan Miller and try to stay ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division race, while Pekka Rinne will be looking for his first victory since returning from hip surgery for the Predators. The Predators have scored six goals in the past four games, but forward Patric Hornqvist has been in on half of them (two goals, one assist).
Vancouver Canucks at Dallas Stars -- Vancouver has been losing ground rapidly in the Western Conference with losses in 10 of its past 11 games, even though goalie Eddie Lack has a 1.25 goals-against average starting the past four. To make matters worse, Canucks forward Daniel Sedin is out indefinitely with a leg injury. As for Dallas, it acquired goalie Tim Thomas from the Florida Panthers on Wednesday. Thomas should relieve some of the load from Kari Lehtonen, who has started 50 games this season.
Montreal Canadiens at Phoenix Coyotes -- Left wing Thomas Vanek, acquired from the New York Islanders moments before the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, will make his Canadiens debut. Vanek has 21 goals and 32 assists in 60 games this season between the Islanders and Buffalo Sabres. Phoenix has split the first two games of its three-game homestand. The Coyotes earned a 1-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
New York Islanders at Edmonton Oilers -- The Islanders are already without leading scorer John Tavares, and now they'll be without Thomas Vanek too. New York scratched Vanek on Tuesday, yet still came away with a 3-2 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. The Oilers, who had scored two goals in their previous three games, ended a three-game losing streak with a 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday.
Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks -- The Penguins have lost two of three, including a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in their 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. Pittsburgh acquired forwards Lee Stempniak from the Calgary Flames and Marcel Goc from the Florida Panthers on Wednesday in exchange for future draft picks. The Sharks have lost to the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres since the end of the Olympic break. Rookie goaltender Alex Stalock is 3-0-1 in his past four starts, with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.