For a Tampa Bay Lightning team hampered by injuries over the past 10 days, Thursday’s optional morning skate was a welcome sight.
All six injured or ill Lightning players were on the ice and participating.
Bolts forward Vladislav Namestnikov (ill) and defensemen Victor Hedman (LBI) and Braydon Coburn (LBI) all wore regular practice jerseys. Namestnikov started feeling sick Tuesday night and was sent home from practice Wednesday. But, the Russian rookie said he’s much better today and ready to play tonight.
Hedman skated with the rest of his teammates for a third-straight day, and Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he’s good to go in tonight’s next-to-last regular season game against the New Jersey Devils.
Hedman has missed three-straight games.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity throughout the year with injuries,” Hedman said. “These last few weeks it’s been kind of ridiculous with all the injuries we’ve had, especially on the back end with four guys going down. To see all the guys out there today, even though it was in non-contact jerseys, it’s obviously encouraging for everyone to see them out there and close to returning.”
Coburn shed the red no-contact jersey for a regular sweater for the first time since going down in his fourth game with the Lightning, but it’s still questionable whether he’ll be ready in time for Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs.
“It would be a gift if he would be ready for Game 1,” Cooper said.
Alex Killorn (undisclosed), Andrej Sustr (UBI) and Jason Garrison (UBI) all participated Thursday in red.
“I would say Sustr and Killorn are…probables for Game 1 I would hope,” Cooper said. “I would hope they’re probables. Coburn will be iffy; (Garrison) doubtful.”
Killorn said he’s pushing to get back in the lineup for Saturday’s regular season finale against the Boston Bruins and “would be shocked” if he wasn’t available for the opening game of the postseason.
“I felt good,” Killorn said. “You feel a lot better when things are progressing. From where it was to where it is now, it’s been a pretty big leap.”
Killorn said he was injured last Thursday during the game in Ottawa but didn’t feel the effects until two days later during morning skate in Florida.
“I guess I didn’t realize the severity of it until the skate,” he said. “It even surprised me.”
BISHOP GETS THE NOD
Ben Bishop was the first goalie off the ice during morning skate, and Cooper later confirmed the veteran will start tonight against New Jersey. Bishop will try to extend his career-high and franchise-best win total to 39 with a victory over the Devils. Bishop is 38-13-5 and recorded his fourth shutout of the season and 12th of his career with 34 saves against Florida on Saturday.
Cooper said the team will decide tomorrow whether to go with Bishop or rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy in the regular season finale against Boston on Saturday.
“We’ll see how (Bishop’s) feeling,” Cooper said. “We’ll get him in tonight and see how everything plays out and see how he’s feeling, and we’ll decide tomorrow what we’ll do Saturday.”
A DEVIL OF A TIME
The New Jersey Devils are the lone Eastern Conference team the Lightning have yet to beat this season, going 0-1-1 in two prior matchups. The Lightning were 1-2-0 last season against the Devils.
“They’ve always just been disciplined and they’re savvy and they get good goaltending,” Cooper said. “They’re big. For some reason we haven’t been able to stick around in the offensive zone against them like we have other teams. I don’t know, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know our guys are looking forward to playing. We haven’t played in a few days.”
Cooper’s first game as head coach of the Lightning came March 29, 2013 against the Devils, a game the Lightning won 5-4 in a shootout. Cooper is 2-3-1 all-time versus New Jersey.
“My first game behind the bench was against Jersey and fittingly we had to score in the last minute and then went to overtime and won in overtime and I don’t know if any game we’ve played has ever been separated by more than a goal unless it was like a goalie-pulled goal,” Cooper said. “But, it always seems to be, it’s always been a wait each other out type game and it always seems like the team that scores first wins the game and they just play to their system and we’re always playing catch up.”