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Bolts nearly back to full strength

Erik Cernak and Ondrej Palat could return Thursday against Stars

by Bryan Burns /

The injury concerns for the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to have cleared up rather quickly. The Lightning were without forward Ondrej Palat and rookie defenseman Erik Cernak during their 6-3 victory over the Calgary Flames Tuesday at AMALIE Arena. Now it appears both might be available when the Bolts take the ice again Thursday to host the Dallas Stars, the second contest in a three-game homestand for Tampa Bay.

Palat and Cernak took part in Tampa Bay's training session Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum, each wearing a regular jersey. Neither player appeared limited during practice. Palat skated on a line with Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson. Cernak rotated in with the defensemen.

Palat has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury. When asked following practice whether the Czech left winger might be in the lineup Thursday versus the Stars, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper replied, "He could be."

Video: Jon Cooper on Cernak and Palat

Cooper's answer when asked about Cernak's status was pretty much the same, if not more elaborate.

"He'll get re-evaluated after practice, and we'll make a judgment call on that," he said. "If he plays, he plays. If not, it's more precautionary. If we don't see tomorrow, then most definitely probably see him Saturday."

Cernak said he was injured when he was hit awkwardly in the corner during the Lightning's 5-2 victory Sunday at the Florida Panthers. After sitting out Tuesday's game, he skated for the first time on Wednesday and said he felt good after the session.

"It's part of hockey," Cernak said. "I knew right away it's nothing serious, so I try to be positive. Guys did a really good job without me, so I'm really happy for that and hopefully tomorrow it's going to be better and better."

Video: Cernak | Injury Update

With Cernak close to full strength, the Lightning re-assigned Jan Rutta to AHL Syracuse on Wednesday. Rutta was recalled from the Crunch on Tuesday but didn't play in the game against the Flames, instead serving as an insurance policy in case of injury to another defensemen. Rutta has yet to make his Lightning debut since being traded to Tampa Bay by Chicago on January 11.

Also on Wednesday, Mathieu Joseph, who was re-assigned to Syracuse on Tuesday, was recalled to Tampa Bay.

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