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Stamkos injured in Phase 2, expected to play for Lightning in Qualifiers

Forward limited at start of training camp with lower-body issue

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

Steven Stamkos sustained a lower-body injury during Phase 2 of the NHL Return to Play Plan but is expected to be able to play in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers for the Tampa Bay Lightning, though the forward was limited at the start of training camp Monday, 

The Lightning captain skated between Tampa Bay's two practice sessions Monday.

Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said he was optimistic Stamkos would be able to play when the Lightning begin the round-robin portion of the qualifiers Aug. 3 against the Washington Capitals.

"Yes, I am," BriseBois said. "We don't have a specific timeline for when he will be a full participant in camp. But we expect he will be ready in time for games."

Video: The guys discuss Stamkos recent injury

Training camps opened in the teams' local markets on Monday for the start of Phase 3 of the Return to Play Plan. The 24 participating teams will travel July 26 to the two hub cities -- 12 Eastern Conference teams to Toronto, and 12 Western Conference teams to Edmonton -- where they will begin play Aug. 1 with the qualifiers, which is Phase 4.

The qualifiers include 16 teams playing eight best-of-5 series and a round-robin among the top four teams in points percentage in each conference to determine seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Lightning were 43-21-6 (.657 points percentage) when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. They will play the Boston Bruins (44-14-12, .714), Capitals (41-20-8, .652) and Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, .645) to determine the top four seeds in the East for the playoffs. The eight series winners will advance to the playoffs, and the losers will have a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, which will be held Aug. 10. The draft is scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10.

Stamkos, who scored 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists), played in 57 of the Lightning's 70 games this season and missed the final seven games before the pause after having core muscle surgery March 2. He missed three games with a lower-body injury in February and three in November, also with a lower-body injury. 

"The plan in any of these situations is not necessarily to have him be on the ice for a full practice on July 13," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Monday. "The plan is to make sure he's at an optimum position to go when we start playing games up in Toronto. We've got a little bit of time ... It's always a good sign when your players are getting back on the ice. It's going to be baby steps, but every day the report is a good one. There's no taking a stepping back so that's a good sign for us.

"There's challenges in every season, whether there's a pandemic or not. These ones are just completely different and uncharted. Health is always a challenge. Primarily we're pretty good in that area. I know our captain is going to miss a practice or two here, but that shouldn't be a concern. The challenge for the coaching staff is to make sure we put our guys in the best position to succeed without running them into the ground for them to get hurt." 

Teams are limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies for Phase 3. BriseBois said the Lightning would have 18 forwards, 10 defensemen and four goalies. At the pause, the Lightning had 25 players (14 forwards, nine defensemen and two goalies). They will add goalies Spencer Martin and Scott Wedgewood; defenseman Cal Foote; and forwards Alex Barre-Boulet, Mathieu Joseph, Alexander Volkov, Gemel Smith and Luke Witkowski, who can also play defenseman.

BriseBois said no Lightning player has said he will opt out of the Return to Play Plan. Any player may choose not to participate in Phases 3 and 4 without discipline or penalty. The player must notify his team in writing by Tuesday. Independent Correspondent Corey Long contributed to this report

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