PITTSBURGH -- Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos participated in an optional morning skate but will not play against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at Consol Energy Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Stamkos said he's still taking blood thinner medication and can't play until he is off it. He had surgery April 4 to remove a blood clot near his right collarbone and was expected to miss 1-3 months.
"I feel great," said Stamkos, who hasn't played since March 31. "Like I've said before, I'm just giving myself a chance to be ready if that time comes, that I'm up to game shape. That's been the plan all along. Each day I skate, each day I handle the puck, shoot the puck. Things feel better and better. I'm just giving myself a chance that if that time comes, I'll be ready."
Stamkos said he hopes that could happen at some point during the conference final.
"I'm hoping," he said. "That's the frustrating part, it's just not knowing. But I am hopeful that it can be this series."
The Lightning have reached the Eastern Conference Final without Stamkos and defenseman Anton Stralman, who has been out since sustaining a fractured left fibula March 25.
"It's very difficult [to watch]," Stamkos said. "This is the time of the season where you want to play. When I first spoke, I felt my game was on the right track down the stretch and I was feeling physically great. We were in a spot where things were going well for us as a team and myself personally, so that's how I envisioned entering the playoffs.
"But things like this happen. It's a part of the sport. A part of being an athlete is having to deal with adversity. I couldn't be more proud of the effort the guys have put in to this point. They've given a chance for some of us injured guys to at least have some hope that we can play in these playoffs with the way they've played."