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Victor Hedman hopes to return to lineup on Thursday against Devils

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman practiced for a second-straight day Wednesday at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum and had no apparent limitations.

With Slater Koekkoek being re-assigned to AHL Syracuse Wednesday afternoon, expect Hedman to be available for tomorrow’s next-to-last regular season game against the New Jersey Devils at Amalie Arena.

“He’s inching toward a return,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Whether that’s tomorrow or Saturday, we’ll determine that tomorrow. He’s feeling pretty good, so that’s a good sign.”

Hedman said he felt better Wednesday than he did the day before when he practiced for the first time since missing the last three games with a lower-body injury.

“I felt good yesterday and today, and I’m really hoping to be in the game tomorrow and that’s been my goal,” Hedman said. “To get two games in before the playoffs starts is going to be huge for me I think. Very excited about tomorrow and hopefully I get the chance to play.”

Braydon Coburn practiced for a second-straight day in a red no-contact jersey. Missing from today’s session were Alex Killorn (undisclosed injury), Andrej Sustr (upper-body injury) and Jason Garrison (upper-body injury). Yesterday, Sustr indicated he was hoping to get back on the ice for Thursday’s morning skate, but Cooper balked today when asked if that was still a possibility.

“I’m not optimistic of it, but I guess it could happen,” Cooper said.

Vladislav Namestnikov also was absent Wednesday after being sent home because of an illness.

“Hopefully he’s ok for tomorrow,” Cooper said. “If not, it would just be a one-game thing.”

PLAYOFF POSITIONING

Despite wrapping up a postseason berth and home-ice advantage for the first round last week, the Lightning still have plenty to play for with two games remaining in the regular season.

Tampa Bay trails Montreal by two points for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. If the Lightning can overtake the Canadiens, not only will they win just the third division title in team history but also secure home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Both Tampa Bay and Montreal have two games left.

“I guess perception is we don’t have anything to play for, but we can still get first place,” Cooper said. “I think that’d be great for our team to be able to pull that off. We’ve still got some unfinished goals ahead of us, but, ultimately, you just want the guys competing hard and keep doing the things that have got us to this position now and we should be alright.”

The Lightning have accumulated more home wins (30) than any other team in the NHL.

“I think (home ice) is huge,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “There’s a reason why you look over the years the amount of teams who’ve had home ice and won. There’s a reason why you’re rewarded home ice for finishing as high as you can in the standings...We play well at home for a reason, so we want to obviously finish as high as possible and get as much home ice as we can.

Added Hedman: “This is the time of year where you have to bring your game to another level. Come playoff time, we’ve got to be prepared for the battle out there…For us it’s about coming together as a group and playing our game and play up to playoff intensity.”

WHO’S IN GOAL?

Cooper was non-committal about which goalie would start Thursday against New Jersey and Saturday’s regular season finale versus the Boston Bruins.

“The goaltending situation is what is going to be best for our team to have our goalies ready for (next) Thursday,” Cooper said. “Whether that’s splitting them, we don’t know yet how that’s going to work out.”

Ben Bishop set a career high and new franchise record with his 38th victory of the season in Saturday’s win over Florida. Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t played since a 3-1 loss in Toronto on March 31 but has been outstanding during his rookie year, going 7-5-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

“We need Bish to be on his A game leading up to (the playoffs) and Vasy’s got to be ready to go in at any moment,” Cooper said. “Whether that’s splitting them though, we just haven’t decided that yet.”

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