Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos likely won't return during the regular season, he said Thursday.
Stamkos will not play against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, TSN4, FS-F, NHL.TV) and will miss his 63rd game with a knee injury.
"Yeah, it's probably not looking that good," Stamkos said of returning before the Lightning regular season ends Sunday with a home game against the Buffalo Sabres. "It's been frustrating obviously when you have to deal with a major injury. I've been unfortunate the last couple of years to have to deal with a few too many. The good thing is you know when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it's nice. You've put in a lot of hard work to be able to get back out there with your teammates. But in saying that, with some of the injuries I've had, you know what it feels like when you're ready to return and when you're not ready."
The Lightning (39-30-10, 88 points) are five points behind the Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with three games remaining. They will be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss.
"It's not even a sense of rushing it," Stamkos said. "It's when it feels right. If it doesn't feel right, you can't expect to be able to go out there and do the things you can when you're healthy. Obviously with a significant injury which it was, you want to make sure that things are healed so you don't ever have to deal with it again. It's tough, I want to be out there as much as anyone. I think I showed that last year coming back for Game 7 (of the Eastern Conference Final)."
Stamkos had arthroscopic surgery for a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee on Nov. 17. The Lightning captain had 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 17 games before the injury.
"It's been a long process," he said. "It was most likely a five-month thing when it happened, speaking with the surgeon and the doctors and everyone involved. We're not quite there yet. It's been tough but I'll continue to keep going out there and doing the things I need to do on the ice, off the ice, to make sure it's healthy and I can get back whenever it feels ready."