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Lightning starting to see Stamkos at best again

by Sean Farrell

OTTAWA -- If center Steven Stamkos isn't all the way back to the condition he was in before his broken leg, the Tampa Bay Lightning are just fine with what he has delivered through his first seven games back in the lineup, especially the past four.

Stamkos and the Lightning are in fine form as they prepare to play the second game on their three-game road trip Thursday against the Ottawa Senators.

Tampa Bay, which has 13 games remaining, has ridden a four-game winning streak to a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Montreal Canadiens. Each has 83 points and the Lightning have a game in hand.

Stamkos had a natural hat trick Wednesday in a 5-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I'm not even going out on a limb to say he won't be 100 percent this year," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "I think he's getting better each game. Every pregame skate, everything, he's starting to feel better. I don't think it is as much a physical thing as it is probably a mental thing with him.

"It's pretty tough to go through such a traumatic injury and then be out four months and then have to jump into the best League in the world and perform at a level that everyone expects you to, but as you've watched him he's just not as tentative as he was the first game he came back. Now he's starting to get his confidence back around the net, so it's good timing for us for sure."

Stamkos has five goals and two assists in his past four games after failing to record a point in his first three games since returning from the broken leg he sustained Nov. 11 against the Boston Bruins.

"It's getting better each and every game," Stamkos said Thursday at the team's hotel. "You know, you're getting more comfortable mentally on the ice going into certain situations. I thought [Wednesday], the first period, engaging in some battles and stuff down low, that was kind of one of the first times I wasn't thinking about it at all.

"So there's still a little bit to go with strength-wise. The first three strides that are usually for me pretty quick and pretty explosive, it's getting there but it's going to take some time to develop that muscle and those fast-twitch muscles to get going to the way they were before the injury, but it's definitely getting more comfortable each game."

The Lightning did not have a morning skate Thursday. Cooper said he would make some changes to the lineup he used Wednesday, though not in goal, where Ben Bishop is expected to make his seventh start in a row.

Senators goalie Craig Anderson took part in Ottawa's morning skate at Canadian Tire Centre but remains sidelined by an upper-body injury, so Robin Lehner will make his fourth straight start.

Lehner, who has not won since Feb. 5, has allowed 13 goals in his past three games.

Goalie Nathan Lawson sustained a lower-body injury after he relieved Lehner to begin the third period of Ottawa's 8-4 loss against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Goalie Andrew Hammond was recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League and will back up Lehner.

Ottawa is winless in four games (0-2-2). The Senators are on a 2-6-2 skid that has dropped them to 12th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 14 games remaining.

Here are the possible Lightning and Senators lineups:


Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Tyler Johnson

Ondrej Palat - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan

J.T. Brown - Tom Pyatt - Teddy Purcell

Ryan Malone - Nate Thompson - Nikita Kucherov

Victor Hedman - Sami Salo

Matt Carle - Radko Gudas

Eric Brewer - Michael Kostka

Ben Bishop

Anders Lindback

Scratched: Keith Aulie, Mark Barberio, Richard Panik, B.J. Crombeen

Injured: Brian Lee (lower body), Mattias Ohlund (knee)


Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Bobby Ryan

Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil

Mike Hoffman - Mika Zibanejad - Erik Condra

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Chris Phillips - Cody Ceci

Jared Cowen - Eric Gryba

Robin Lehner

Andrew Hammond

Scratched: Patrick Wiercioch, Matt Kassian

Injured: Craig Anderson (upper body), Nathan Lawson (lower body)

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