TAMPA – Steven Stamkos says he expects to be ready to come back, with Nikita Kucherov, when the Tampa Bay Lightning opens the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“The goal has always been to be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs, and everything has moved in that direction, so it’s exciting,” Stamkos said on Friday. ” I feel much better. I am definitely in a better place than a few weeks ago. “
Stamkos has been a full participant in practice and morning skates this week in preparation for the playoffs. He has 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 38 games and leads the Lightning with 10 power play goals.
Kucherov has been skating with Tampa Bay for about two months, but has been more active with the line throws recently and is working on his first power play unit. He scored 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists) in 68 games last season and 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 25 playoff games to help Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup.
“’Kuch’ and I are very close,” Stamkos said, “and whenever you can have a rehab buddy it makes things a lot easier, just from a mental point of view too, you have someone. one to bounce things off behind the scenes. you always work together, whether before training or before [the media] see us, we are working hard. During matches, we are either in the gym or under treatment.
“I think we’re just thrilled to have the chance to get back on the ice in a playing situation. We haven’t had the chance to play together on the ice in quite a while, so we’re excited to this subject. “
The Lightning (36-14-3) is tied with the Florida Panthers for second place in the eight-team Discovery Central Division and nabbed a playoff berth. A start date for the playoffs has not been announced.
« [From] our part is to make sure they’re in good shape, that they’re physically ready to go and that they know exactly what our game plan is, ”said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. . But the rest you will have to ask them. . “
Stamkos was limited to a playoff game and 2:47 of ice time last season. He scored a goal in the first period in a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Cup Final.
Cooper said on April 17 that Stamkos’ injury was unrelated to an abdominal muscle injury he sustained last season. Stamkos also missed games on February 11 and 13 with a lower body injury.
If Stamkos doesn’t play before the playoffs, he will have missed 100 regular season games and 38 playoff games in the past five seasons.
“Every time you get injured it’s not fun, and unfortunately for me I’ve had to deal with a lot of things lately and it can get very frustrating,” said the 31-year-old. “There’s no one who wants to be there more than me. The first couple of days after something like this you’re down on yourself and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then you start to get up and move and rehabilitate yourself and definitely feel a lot better so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. ”
Tampa Bay hosts Dallas on Friday (7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSSW +, NHL.TV) and ends the regular season with games in Florida on Saturday and Monday.