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Steven Stamkos knows he's running out of time

With Lightning's playoff hopes flickering, star center still not ready to return from knee injury

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- As the days go on and the games pass, center Steven Stamkos is aware his return from knee surgery this season becomes less and less likely.

He knows the Tampa Bay Lightning have 10 guaranteed games remaining in their season. It is tugging on him.

But the Lightning center also knows there is little he can do to speed up the recovery process, even though he is back on the ice back skating with his teammates, as he did Thursday at TD Garden ahead of the game against the Boston Bruins (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, NESN, SUN, NHL.TV).

"When I'm 100 percent, I'll be back," Stamkos said. "Obviously you hope that's sooner rather than later, but I have no control of the healing that goes on and the process. The timing and the conditioning and all that stuff; there's so many factors that come into play when you've been out as long as I have."

Stamkos has been out since Nov. 15, when he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee. He returned to full practices last Friday, six days ago, after four months of rehab. The timeline on the injury had always been 4-6 months, and Stamkos knew it was never going to be on the early end.

Video: TBL@DET: Stamkos leaves game with apparent injury

But he's still waiting to see how long it really will be. Will it be this season?

"It's such a hard question to answer," Stamkos said. "I try to be as honest as I can when I'm doing [interviews]. It's just there's no honest answer.

"It wasn't an injury where it was a broken bone where they're like, it's 4-6 weeks and that's the set date when you'll be back. It's a 4-6 month range, where four months was kind of out of the question. We've gone past that mark now."

And he is still not 100 percent.

"Until I feel where I have no restrictions on the ice, I won't be able to put myself in a position to be the player I know I can be to help my team to the best of my abilities," he said. "As of this moment, as of coming off the ice right now, I still don't feel that way. I don't foresee a thing where I'm going to wake up tomorrow and it's going to feel great all of a sudden. It's a process. It's frustrating at times. It's exciting at times when you see how much progress is made in a short period of time, but it's a long rehab progression."

Ultimately, it's about what it feels like for Stamkos. Being cleared by a doctor to play doesn't necessarily mean he will immediately feel right and be able to help his teammates. He does not, as he said, want to be a liability because of his limitations.

"I'm going to shy away from that," he said. "It's not fair to my teammates. It's not fair to myself to go out there in that situation."

Video: TBL@DET: Stamkos slams in a rebound on the doorstep

That makes the situation all the more difficult for Stamkos, who has to sit and watch as the Lightning chase a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have lost three consecutive games and are five points behind Boston for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference. They are three points behind the New York Islanders, the first team out of a playoff spot.

Still, he can't come back yet, not while he's dealing with the lingering effects of the injury, the pain and the discomfort, which he expects to continue in some form for as much as a year.

"What's going to be day-to-day pain, what's discomfort, those are the things you're going to have to differentiate," he said. "When you come off the ice it's sore, but it's a good sore. You worked it hard. But is there certain movement where you have to, from a standstill and explode your first three strides, is there pain when you're doing that?

"The knee is a tricky situation. It's something I've never had to deal with before, so it was all new to me. There's obviously a lot of movements that the knee is a big part of when you're skating. It's a lot of things that you have to teach yourself over again when you're out as long as I was.

"Definitely on the right path. It's just, time's kind of running out. Hopefully there is enough time that I can help out or we can get back into the mix and get into the playoffs and hopefully be ready by then. But I'll just continue to keep taking it day by day."

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