PITTSBURGH -- Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos made a surprising return to the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.
The center was one of 12 forwards and six defensemen dressed for warmups, an indicator he would play. He took rushes at center on a line with Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan as his wings.
The Lightning or Penguins will play the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday.
It is Stamkos' first game of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He hadn't played since March 31 because of a blood clot near his right collarbone. The 26-year-old had vascular surgery April 4 to clear the blood clot, and the estimate for his recovery was 4-12 weeks. Thursday was less than eight weeks since the surgery.
Stamkos was asked in the morning if he would be able to play in Game 7 and said, "No status change. No."
He arrived early at Consol Energy Center on the bus along with the rest of the Lightning players preparing to play.
Stamkos has been practicing with the team for more than a month. He received medical clearance to play "a while ago," according to the Tampa Bay Times, but waited to make the decision to play because he was on blood thinners.
"We're preparing to put the best team possible on the ice to win Game 7," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said in his pregame remarks. "There's going to be guys that cannot play. … Everybody that plays tonight, they're cleared to play and ready to go. … And if Stamkos is in the lineup, it's our best foot forward, and if he's not in the lineup, it's because he wasn't eligible to play."