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Hedman close to returning; Palat out for extended period

Victor Hedman could return as early as Saturday but Palat will be out for four weeks as he deals with a lower-body injury

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

The Tampa Bay Lightning received mixed news with regards to injuries to two key players: Norris Trophy defenseman Victor Hedman and versatile two-way forward Ondrej Palat.

Hedman, who has been dealing with an upper-body injury sustained after a hit from Vegas' Ryan Reaves in Tampa Bay's 3-2 win in the desert October 26, practiced fully with the team on Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum and was a participant in the Lightning's morning skate Thursday ahead of their home game versus the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m. puck drop). Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper ruled Hedman out for tonight's game against the Islanders. But he could return quickly after, potentially even as soon as Saturday's contest against the Ottawa Senators when the Bolts close out a three-game home stand.

"Going in the right direction, that's for sure," Hedman said following morning skate. "It sucks being on the sideline, but guys have been playing great. Makes it a little easier not playing. At the same time, when you're a hockey player, you want to play games. You want to be out there battling with the guys. But I'm very happy with the way it's going and just keep moving along."

Video: Jon Cooper on the New York Islanders

The news on Palat is not so good, however. Initially diagnosed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, Palat has now been ruled out for four weeks. Like Hedman, Palat was hurt in the game at Vegas.

"He wasn't progressing the way we liked so we shut him down here for a little bit," Cooper said after the team's practice Wednesday.

Hedman said taking part fully in Wednesday's practice was a positive step. So too was the way he felt the day after.

"It's always fun to see how the body reacts," Hedman said. "I know my body. I know when it feels good, and today was a good day. Obviously, very exciting with the way things are going and like I said earlier, it's trending in the right direction. Feels good to be out there."

Hedman called the Reaves' hit a "clean" one and was relieved he didn't hit his head.

"I was off balance, just finished my pass so I'm late," Hedman said. "He's a big boy doing his job. Just kind of brace for impact and luckily didn't hit my head. That was the good thing about it. Obviously, got a little banged up but that's going to happen."

Video: Alex Killorn on the New York Islanders

In Hedman's absence, Ryan McDonagh has picked up his game, taking more of the minutes that would typically go to Hedman and stepping into Hedman's role as the quarterback of the Bolts' top power-play unit. McDonagh has also become more of an offensive threat with Hedman out. He's picked up four assists over his last two games and has recorded a goal and six assists over his last five.

McDonagh is now tied for the Lightning lead for assists this season (10) and ranks tied for eighth among NHL defensemen.

"He's been playing great," Hedman said of McDonagh. "He's a top defenseman in the league. Obviously with a full training camp and getting more settled in helps a lot too. Him and Stralsy have done a great job playing big minutes against top lines, but I think the whole D corps has been doing a great job. It's been fun to watch some of the games, they've played really great even though obviously the one in Arizona the one game you just kind of forget about and move on. The rest of the games they've been playing great. The whole team has been doing a good job, the goalie's been playing good. We've been getting results too, so that's helped me a lot not to freak out too much sitting at home and watching games. I'm just focusing on my rehab and it's been a pleasure watching the guys play."

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