Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos continues to practice with his teammates at Consol Energy Center in a regular jersey, but don’t expect the Bolts captain to suit up for Game 2 of tonight’s Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Stamkos played coy at first with reporters following the Lightning’s optional morning skate, saying “You’ll have to find out,” when asked if there was a chance he could play tonight. Later, however, Stamkos admitted he will not be in the lineup as the Bolts try to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“I’m hoping there’s a chance for the game after that or the game after that, or we could come to a conclusion after all of our research that it’s just not safe to play at all in these playoffs,” Stamkos said. “That’s the reality I’m living with. I’m just as frustrated as you guys having to sit here and answer the same questions while you guys ask the same questions. I’m asking those questions too, and I get the same answers back. That’s the tough part right now, but, like I said all along, just trying to give myself a chance that if that day comes where I speak with the docs and we feel as a group, me and my family, that it’s safe to get back on the ice, then I certainly will.”
Stamkos continues to take blood thinners since his surgery on April 4 to treat a type of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome near his right collarbone. He clarified he’s been on the same injectable blood thinner regiment since the surgery, contrary to a couple reports that came out Sunday.
“I think there was a little confusion from some stuff that came out yesterday with regards to me and some of the medications,” he said. “I’ve been on the same medication since day one. I don’t know if that was misinterpreted or maybe I said something wrong, but I’m on the same medication I’ve been on since day one. It’s an injectable blood thinner, so there’s different regiments and by that I mean there’s different ways you can go around that in order to still play.”
Stamkos went on to say that even when he gets off the blood thinners or changes his regiment to a level that would allow him to play, it still doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be back on the ice immediately.
“It’s not like I’m going to magically be cleared and then possibly play that night,” he said. “You’ve got to get practice. You’ve got to take some time. I’ve been trying to get as much strength back in the gym and obviously going on the ice every day, staying out after practice working on conditioning and things like that. It’s going to take a couple practices to get some bumps and just get back to that. Obviously, it’s not going to be a game-like situation until you get out there, but you just try to prepare yourself for that scenario.”
Stamkos said there’s been no rush from himself or others to get back on the ice and all precautionary measures have been taken to ensure his safety once he is able to play again.
“We’ve done our due diligence,” he said. “It’s been a process: safety first, health first. It hasn’t changed. I know as an athlete, I’m willing to do whatever it takes, and, trust me, I’ve tried. That’s the toughest part for sure is to try to walk that line, but the medical team here and our staff here has been amazing, and we’re doing it the right way.”
BISHOP WATCHES MORNING SKATE
Tampa Bay starting goaltender Ben Bishop is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and, on Sunday, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said he hadn’t been ruled out for Game 2.
But all indications point toward Andrei Vasilevskiy making his second-career playoff start tonight.
Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis were the only Lightning goalies on the ice for the Bolts’ optional morning skate, a heavily-attended skate that 18 players took part in. Bishop, meanwhile, showed up midway through the skate wearing workout gear and watched for a while from the tunnel.
If Bishop does somehow play, he can set the Lightning franchise record for playoff victories with a win. He has 21 currently, tied with Nikolai Khabibulin.
Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman continues to train with his teammates and participate fully in practices wearing a regular jersey. Stralman was one of the 18 players on the ice for morning skate, and although he wasn’t available after practice to talk to the media and Cooper won’t address the media until later this afternoon, it seems likely Stralman will be back soon and maybe as soon as tonight.
On Sunday, Cooper told reporters Stralman had been upgraded to day-to-day.
If he plays tonight, Stralman will make his first appearance since March 25 when he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula after getting his skate stuck in the ice while bent backwards by the Islanders’ Anders Lee during a late-regular season game.