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Stamkos skates, still hoping for pre-Olympic return

by Staff

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos often has said he'd like to play at least one game with the team prior to playing for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

However, on Tuesday he said that was the best-case scenario, and he would still consider playing in the Olympics even without an NHL warmup.

"The objective is to play a game," Stamkos said after skating with his teammates Tuesday in Toronto. "That's something I would really love to do. But if that's not the case there's going to be another discussion about whether I'm still going to be on that [Olympic] team. We haven't had that. It's more like we'll cross that bridge when we need to."

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who also serves as executive director of Canada's Olympic team, said much the same.

"If he gets a chance to play in a game, if he's cleared to play, great," Yzerman said. "If not, then depending on what the doctor says and how he feels, is he good to go for the first game of the tournament? He's the only one who really knows that once the doctors give him the green light to play."

Stamkos continued his rehabilitation work on the ice Tuesday, this time wearing a regular jersey rather than a red non-contact jersey or a yellow caution jersey.

His on-ice appearance comes one day after he cut an on-ice session short due to soreness in his surgically repaired right leg. Stamkos broke his right tibia during a game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11 when he fell into the goal post, and had surgery the next day.

After feeling pain in his leg Monday, Stamkos said, "It felt a lot better [Tuesday]."

The Lightning play at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TSN), and then have five more games ahead of the Olympic break. Their last three games are Feb. 4 at the Minnesota Wild, and then home games Feb. 6 against the Maple Leafs and Feb. 8 against the Detroit Red Wings.

"It's got to feel good in practice with some contact, there's no denying that," Stamkos said. "You can't mimic a game-like situation without playing in a game, but at least get a couple of good hard practices in with some kind of contact, and we're not there yet. If that's going to happen it has to happen in the next week or so."

Stamkos said his overall fitness level is fine; his only concern is getting his leg ready for game conditions.

"I've been working extremely hard off the ice and doing some bag skates here and there," he said. "That [fitness] is not the focus. It's how the leg is feeling and how it responds to certain movements and activities."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said a pre-Olympic return to the lineup by Stamkos would be fine but it isn't something he's counting on or worrying about.

"If he comes back before the Olympic break that's just icing on the cake for us," he said. "But this is all up to Steven. As much as I want him to play in the Olympics, [Yzerman] wants him to play in the Olympics, the country [Canada] wants him to play in the Olympics, you really have to look at Steven the person. This is his livelihood. This is who he is, so we have to look beyond that. I know whatever happens it's going to be for the right reasons and not to push things to jeopardize his future."

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