Seven days later, though, Palat is practicing with the rest of his teammates and could be back in the lineup as early as tomorrow when the Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings at Amalie Arena.
Palat took up his usual spot on the left side of the Triplets line without a red, no-contact jersey and showed no visible signs of being slowed by the injury.
“We thought Palat could be back this weekend, so if it’s tomorrow, I guess that is a little ahead,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We thought Boston was kind of a game we thought he might back, so I guess if he comes back two days earlier that’s good for us.”
Palat said it’s too early to tell if he’ll be healthy enough to face the Red Wings and will have to see how he feels later today and tomorrow before declaring himself fit.
But, the main thing is, he feels good now and should be back sooner rather than later.
“It’s the part of the season you want to play and you want to get ready for the playoffs,” he said. “Too bad I was injured. I missed a couple games, but I can’t wait to be back with the boys on the ice and get ready for the playoffs.”
Palat took a puck off his lower body in the victory at Montreal (March 10) and missed the next three games, the Lightning going 1-1-1 over that stretch.
“There (are) tough players and then there’s Palat,” Cooper said. “He endures a lot, just the way he plays, but he always seems to find himself against the defenseman who shoots the puck the hardest and he’s in the lane. But the reason he, unfortunately, gets hit with shots a lot is because he is in those lanes. Palat’s not the only one on this team who gets dirty like that, and I think that’s the reason we’ve had some of the success we’ve had is because guys are willing to pay the price to keep the puck out of the net. But, the problem is it really sucks when those guys get hurt.”
Palat thinks it will take little time to revive the chemistry that he, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov have enjoyed all year once back on the ice.
“I miss playing hockey overall,” Palat said. “It’s bad when you watch the guys play and you can’t do anything. I’m pretty nervous when I watch the games, more nervous than when I’m actually on the ice.”
PAQUETTE SEEING RED
Also returning to the ice on Thursday for the first time since being injured was center Cedric Paquette, who was diagnosed a week ago with a an upper-body injury and given a 10 to 14 day return timetable.
Paquette wore a red, no-contact jersey but skated freely without an apparent discomfort.
“Without contact, I feel pretty good,” Paquette said. “It’s just it takes time to heal…that’s why it was a little bit longer.”
Paquette said he hopes to take the red jersey off by Saturday and be back on the ice in “a week or less.”
“We’ll see how it feels tomorrow and Saturday and go from there,” he said.
Paquette was also injured nine days ago at Montreal and gutted it out to finish the game.
“First shift in the third, I fell weird a little bit, and I think it started getting a little worse in that period, just worse and worse and I couldn’t really play well,” he said. “I finished the game. I didn’t want to let the team down, so I played until the end.
“But after the game, I knew something was wrong.”
After two much-needed days off without practice, the Lightning trained on Thursday ahead of Friday’s matchup with Detroit, the third of four meetings against the Red Wings this season, the Lightning winning both previous matchups.
Starting Friday, the Lightning enter one of their busiest stretches of the season with nine games in 16 days. The Bolts play every other day, except at the end of March when they face Montreal and Toronto on the road in back-to-back nights.
Lightning forward Alex Killorn, though, said he doesn’t think having so many games jammed together over the last few weeks of the regular season is a positive or a negative.
“I think everyone’s kind of in the same boat,” Killorn said. “A lot of teams have games in hand on us, so you’ve got to think they’re going to be playing even more games than us. But, I think we welcome that challenge.”
The Lightning have played 71 games, the same amount as Montreal and Washington among Eastern Conference playoff contenders. Only the Islanders (72) have played more.
Detroit (69), the Rangers (69), Pittsburgh(70) and Boston (70) all have games in hand on the Lightning.
The Red Wings will be playing Tampa Bay on the second day of a back-to-back after facing the Florida Panthers tonight.
Killorn doesn’t anticipate a fatigued Detroit team entering Amalie Arena tomorrow but said it will be key to jump out in front.
“I know we want to get on them,” he said. “When you play the night before, you obviously don’t have as much energy as you would if you were rested the night before. We want to make sure we get on them and make them skate.”