For a Tampa Bay Lightning team troubled by injuries over the last week and change, Tuesday’s practice, the team’s first since returning from their last regular season road trip of the year, had plenty of encouraging signs.
Deadline day acquisition Braydon Coburn was on the ice with his teammates for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury at Montreal on March 10.
Coburn wore a red no-contact jersey during practice and participated in roughly half of the drills but his appearance gives hope that the defenseman will be ready once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next week.
“I think it a day-by-day thing right now, just kind of evaluating how the next day feels and how my body responds,” Coburn said. “Out there today, it felt pretty good. I’m not 100 percent, but it was a good skate.”
Coburn has missed 12-straight games. In the four games he played with the Lightning before going down, Coburn assisted on two goals and was plus-three.
“Anytime you’re not with the team and my situation with a new team here, new teammates, it’s the last place you want to be, especially when they’re on a big road trip and you’re at home doing rehab and all that stuff,” Coburn said. “I’ve learned you just try to stay positive and try to make the most of whatever situation you’re thrown in.”
Coburn said he hopes to be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals.
“I’ve got a goal of just getting a little bit better every day and seeing where that takes me,” he said.
Also going through a normal practice session for the first time since getting hurt was Victor Hedman, who has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury.
Hedman wore a regular jersey and skated fully. He said hopes to be available for one or both of the Lightning’s final two regular season games.
“It’s good to get out there with the guys again,” Hedman said. “Obviously an exciting step but I’m going to get practicing today and practice tomorrow and then hopefully play in the game on Thursday.”
Hedman said he was encouraged by how he felt following his first full practice in over a week.
“It felt good,” he said. “Hopefully it’s going to react good too.”
MORE INJURY NEWS
Less encouraging was the absence of defensemen Andrej Sustr and Jason Garrison as well as forward Alex Killorn on the practice ice. Although all three attended Tuesday’s practice session, none participated.
The chance any of the three gets into a game before the playoffs is up in the air.
“As you can see, (Garrison) and (Sustr) and (Killorn) aren’t even out there, so hard to say if they’re going to get in,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “…I’d like to get our guys back, but I’m looking big picture though. For the guys to get at least one game in before playoffs would be ideal, but if they don’t, they don’t. They’ve just got to come in and be ready when the playoffs begin.”
Killorn is suffering from an undisclosed injury that occurred during Ottawa game and forced him to sit out the Bolts 4-0 shutout of Florida on Saturday.
“He got banged up it would have been (against) Ottawa,” Cooper said. “As we talked about earlier, I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to keep him out of the first round. Hopefully it won’t disrupt any of his playoffs, but it’s weird how these injuries are happening and we’ll have to see. But another week and a half and I’m hopeful he’ll be back.”
Sustr said he’s been skating by himself the last two days and hopes to join the team for morning skate on Thursday.
“I’m just taking it kind of day by day,” Sustr said. “The progress has been really good I think. It’s been nice to get out there and skating.”
KOEKKOEK TO THE RESCUE
With a trio of defensemen banged up, the Lightning recalled Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse March 31 to help fill the void.
Koekkoek made his NHL debut later that night in Toronto and has played in three games, averaging nearly 17 minutes TOI and performing well enough to give the Lightning plenty of options once all of their blue liners are healthy.
“I think I’ve played well for it being my first few games,” Koekkoek said. “Hopefully, (management) thinks that, and I’ll just do what I can this week to try and get in the lineup for this weekend.”
Koekkoek said joining the team for the first time in the middle of a playoff chase is nerve-wracking but called playing in the NHL a “dream come true” for him.
“When there’s something on the line like (the playoffs), it’s going to be a bigger deal,” Koekkoek said. “I tried to block that out and tried to play hard. We lost that one in Toronto, but we ended up getting three points out of the last two. On the road, we’ve got to be somewhat happy with that.”
With the New York Rangers’ overtime victory Monday night over Columbus, the Lightning are officially eliminated for the chase for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Presidents Trophy. The Rangers have 109 points. The Bolts are on 104 with a possibility of getting four more in their final two games.
Only Montreal has a chance to catch the Rangers for first in the East.
The Lightning can still overtake the Canadiens and win the Atlantic Division, however. The Bolts currently trail Montreal by two points with each team having two games left in the regular season.