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Bolts hopeful Garrison can return tonight vs. Stars

Veteran defenseman has missed four games with a lower-body injury and will be a game-time decision

by Bryan Burns /

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison has sat out the last four games with a lower-body injury suffered in the second period of the Bolts' 6-3 win in Boston on March 23.

But Garrison could return to the Lightning lineup as early as tonight when Tampa Bay hosts the Dallas Stars in a critical game to the Bolts' playoff chances.

Garrison was one of a handful of Lightning players to take part in an optional morning skate at AMALIE Arena Sunday coming off a 2-1 overtime loss to Montreal Saturday night. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper indicated Garrison had a positive skate, and his availability against the Stars will be a game-time decision.

Video: Cooper on injuries and secondary scoring

"Guys are getting closer," Cooper said. "Garrison looked really good in his morning skate, so we're hoping he'll be available."

Garrison has recorded one goal and eight assists in 69 games this season for the Bolts.

Tyler Johnson is also progressing according to Cooper and was another Lightning player to take part in Sunday's skate. His status for tonight's game is a bit more in doubt than Garrison's, but Cooper said there's a chance the Bolts centerman could play versus Dallas.

"Johnson, he's another one that's kind of up in the air," Cooper said. "So, we'll try to get a better indication of both Garrison and Johnson tonight."

Johnson ranks third on the Lightning for goals (19) and fifth for scoring (44 points). He's been forced to sit out the last 11 games with a lower-body injury.

Video: MIN@TBL: Johnson leaves game after taking a hit

Steven Stamkos will not make his return to the Lightning lineup tonight Cooper said. Stamkos was another participant in Sunday's skate, but Cooper ruled him out for the Dallas game, which will be the 61st game Stamkos has missed since suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee on November 15.

The Lightning were hoping to get Stamkos back before the end of the regular season but with just five games remaining in the 2016-17 schedule, time is quickly running out for the Lightning captain.

Additionally, Cooper said Peter Budaj will start in net for the Lightning, who are playing the second half of a back-to-back set when they host Dallas tonight. Budaj will be making his first start since stopping 28-of-31 pucks in the 6-3 victory at Boston 10 days ago.

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