Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos caused a bit of a stir this morning during the Bolts’ optional morning skate at Consol Energy Center when he wore a regular jersey after practicing the last couple of days in a red no-contact jersey.
Following the skate, Stamkos said he’s “hopeful” about returning to the ice at some point for Tampa Bay’s Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he reiterated there’s still no change in his status.
“There’s a chance,” Stamkos said. “That’s why I’m putting in this hard work. If there wasn’t a chance then I’d just have my pom poms out and be a cheerleader. I’ve done that for sure, but there’s a reason why I’m working as hard as I am every day because there is a chance. I obviously want to believe that there is and hope that there is, so it doesn’t change the way I go about my business.”
Stamkos said he still doesn’t know when he will get that chance, however.
“That’s the frustrating part is not knowing when, but I am hopeful that it can be this series.”
Stamkos said he’s not off blood thinners but indicated he didn’t necessarily need to be completely off the medication to play.
“There are instances in players where other guys have changed their blood thinner regiment,” he said. “You don’t necessarily need to be off blood thinners in order to play, there’s different ways around that. That’s something we’ve discussed, and there’s a lot more when you dig deeper into the science of it that there’s ways around it. Obviously we have to make sure there’s zero risk when you’re going out there and playing.”
Stamkos led the Lightning in the regular season for goals and ranked tied for seventh in the NHL after netting 36 in 77 games. He had surgery on April 4 to treat a type of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome near his right collarbone and was given a one to three month timetable to return to playing.
Stamkos is only a few days past the one-month threshold.
“This is a time of the season where you want to play,” he said. “When I first spoke, I said I felt like my game was on the right track down the stretch. I was feeling physically great, in a spot where things were going well for us as a team and for me personally, so that’s how I envisioned entering the playoffs. Things like this happen. It’s part of the sport. It’s part of being an athlete is having to deal with adversity. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort the guys have put in to this point. They’ve given a chance for some of us injured guys to at least have some hope that we can play in these playoffs with the way they’ve played.”
Despite the surgery around his shoulder, Stamkos said he hasn’t had any restrictions on shooting or one-timers, and that part of the rehab process has gone smoothly. Now it’s just a matter of adjusting or getting off the blood thinner medication to the point he can play, but there’s no timetable when that might be.
“There are things a lot more important than hockey when you’re talking about risk and health,” he said. “That’s the tough part as a competitor and a competitive athlete is wanting to get back out there as soon as your body feels physically ready. In this case, it’s not necessarily when the body feels physically ready, it’s the internal stuff that you don’t necessarily see and feel with regards to the blood thinners. That’s the tough part when you feel good to go and you’ve been putting in the hard work in the gym, on the ice, after practice, skating, doing all that stuff. It’s part of the process.”
Two other injured Bolts practiced during Friday’s optional skate as well. Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman continues to participate in a regular jersey and go through a full practice regimen.
“That was good, just to get into the flow of things and kind of get all the information on the ice, all the players, everybody moving around,” Stralman said. “That’s obviously a big part to not just recover from the injury but to start playing the game and doing the reads and timing and all that stuff.”
Stralman said he feels progress every day.
“It’s a process, but, yeah, it’s getting better every day, try to push it a little bit harder and so far so good,” he said. “Just kind of taking it – I’m throwing all the clichés out there – one step at a time.”
J.T. Brown also skated Friday and probably has the best chance of the three injured players to return to the ice, although he said he didn’t know if he would be available for tonight’s Game 1 in Pittsburgh.
“It’s getting closer,” Brown said. “Everything’s getting better. I’m just taking it day by day, practice by practice, just trying to get to the point where I feel like I’m ready to go.”