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Victor Hedman okay, but Matt Carle still couple weeks away

Considering the limited Lightning depth on defense, it likely caused some concern when top defenseman Victor Hedman left Thursday's practice early.

But coach Jon Cooper insisted it was just as a precaution, that Hedman is expected to play Friday against the Blackhawks.

"He didn't feel right," Cooper said. "But I'm not worried about tomorrow."

However, it appears defenseman Matt Carle is further away from returning than originally thought. Carle, who had abdominal surgery in mid-January, was expected to be back early next week, at the six-week mark. Carle has been practicing the past few days in a red non-contact jersey.

But Cooper indicated Thursday that Carle is still a couple weeks away, making it a mid-March return.

"There's definite progression," Cooper said. "But he had surgery. When you start feeling better, then it becomes a mental thing. I'm still looking two weeks from now until we really get to see when he might be back in."

The Lightning (37-19-6) have just 20 games remaining, with players realize this is going to be a sprint to the finish in a playoff push. …

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Andrei Vasilevskiy back to Syracuse, but probably not for long

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stretches his leg to make a toe-tip kick save against Predators center Mike Ribeiro in the first period Feb. 10 in Nashville, Tenn.

[Associated Press]

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stretches his leg to make a toe-tip kick save against Predators center Mike Ribeiro in the first period Feb. 10 in Nashville, Tenn.

The Lightning has sent goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy back to AHL Syracuse for what will likely be a quick stint.

The team confirmed the move Wednesday morning, with no corresponding roster move. Vasilevskiy is expected to start tonight in Syracuse’s game against Rochester.

The Lightning is in the middle of a four-day break after a long road trip and won’t play again until Friday night. The move gives the 20-year-old Vasilevskiy a chance to stay fresh and gain a little more experience while the rest of the Lightning rests.

 

In 10 NHL games this season, Vasilevskiy is 4-3-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. 

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Lightning gets back to work after long road trip

BRANDON – After a day off from its 10-day road trip, the Lightning returned to work Tuesday morning with a practice at the Ice Sports Forum.

“We were above .500 on the trip, and that was a big trip for us,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ll take that.”

Cooper still seemed disappointed about Sunday’s 5-4 loss at Colorado but was otherwise pretty pleased with the Western swing.

A few other quick notes from today’s practice.

Defenseman Matt Carle skated on his own for about 20 minutes before practice and participated in some drills with the team (while wearing a red, no-contact jersey). Carle has been sidelined since mid-January, and next Tuesday will mark six weeks since he had surgery to repair muscles in his abdomen.

Cooper said Carle won’t play Friday, but the team hopes he’s ready to return in early March.

“I’m pleased, though, that there’s been no setbacks,” Cooper said. “I think that’s the big thing…Hopefully it’s early March and not mid-March.”

Cooper certainly doesn’t sound as if he thinks the Lightning is in for a blockbuster deal at Monday’s trade deadline. “This team’s not being blown up,” Cooper said. “This team’s staying together.”

  …

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Steven Stamkos plans to learn from costly turnovers

Lightning center Steven Stamkos is one of the game's top stars, and is capable of making a highlight-reel play at any moment.

But after a couple of bad turnovers led to opponent's goals the past few weeks, Stamkos said he's learning that, sometimes, a simple play is what's best.

With the Lightning up two midway through the third period of Saturday's 4-2 win over Arizona, Stamkos took the puck up the boards in Coyotes zone to the blueline. Mark Arcobello stole the puck from Stamkos, going down for a breakaway goal that gave Arizona some life.

"I just have to manage the game a little better in those situations," Stamkos said. "They were kind of pressuring us, and it's still 3-1, just get the puck in deep there. Obviously the intentions were good, you're going to make a play. But certain times in the game where you have to realize you have to make a simple play. As long as you're willing to accept the mistake and learn from it, you're going to be all right, because you're going to be better from that." …

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Jonathan Drouin going through "growing pains"

For the second half of Monday's 3-2 loss to the Kings, rookie wing Jonathan Drouin was mostly a spectator.

Drouin, 19, had just six shifts in the final two periods, playing a season-low 7 minutes, 47 seconds overall. Coach Jon Cooper said he just went with the players that gave him the best chance to win. Drouin has logged less than 10 minutes in three of the last four games.

"It's way different for me," Drouin said. "But it's not like this is the first time it's happened this year. I kind of get used to it. Can't do a thing about it."

While Cooper understands there are "heightened expectations," since Drouin was the third overall pick in 2013, he points out the touted prospect is also a 19-year-old in his first year of pro hockey. Cooper said Drouin has made positive contributions, including 23 points (two goals, 21 assists) in 48 games, and suggests it's impressive that he's in the lineup every night on a deep forward group.

Drouin was given more opportunities earlier in the season, including power play time, but is just going through the expected growing pains now, Cooper said. …

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Matt Carle "on pace" for early March return

Matt Carle, 30, said he's "right on schedule" for the six-week timetable, which would put him back in the Lightning lineup in early March.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Matt Carle, 30, said he's "right on schedule" for the six-week timetable, which would put him back in the Lightning lineup in early March.

Lightning veteran defenseman Matt Carle said he didn't know too much about adductor muscles in his abdomen until he tore them in mid-January.

"I joke around that my abs are too ripped, that's what happened," Carle quipped.

But the injury was no laughing matter, as it led to surgery Jan. 19, forcing Carle to snap his streak of 347 consecutive regular season games played. Carle is on the road to recovery, however, participating in drills with teammates for the first time Monday in Los Angeles.

Carle, 30, said he's "right on schedule" for the six-week timetable, which would put him back in the Lightning lineup in early March. Tampa Bay is in the market for a veteran defenseman, and Carle could be quite the in-house trade deadline acquisition.

"If it's a little bit sooner, that'd be great," Carle said. "If it's a little bit later, you never know. I'm doing all the right things I can. I felt good (Monday) on the ice, hopefully just continue to get better."

Carle said he suffered the injury Jan. 15 against Edmonton on a "harmless play." The puck was rimmed around the boards, and as Carle went to retrieve it, Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins gave him a "jolt" from behind. …

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Lightning plans to apply to host 2018 WJC

Connor McDavid (17) of Team Canada looks to shoot the puck near Brandon Carlo (26) of Team United States during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Getty Images

Connor McDavid (17) of Team Canada looks to shoot the puck near Brandon Carlo (26) of Team United States during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

The Tampa Sports Commission and Tampa Bay Lightning plan to apply to host the IIHF 2018 World Junior championships.

Lightning executive VP Bill Wickett said they are just waiting to see the request for proposal next month before knowing for sure.

Detroit, Phoenix, Buffalo and Pittsburgh are also expected to apply.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has made it clear his desire to host a major event, whether it be an All Star Game or Winter Classic. Landing the WJC, which includes the top under-20 players in the world, would be a nice get.

This past year's WJC was held in Toronto and Montreal, won by Canada.

 

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Jason Garrison on death of friend Steve Montador: "A tough loss"

The sudden death of former NHL D Steve Montador hit home for Lightning D Jason Garrison, a good friend.

Montador, 35, was found dead in his home in Mississauga, Ontario, Sunday morning. Foul play is reportedly not suspected, though they are awaiting an autopsy.

"He's one of the best guys that I knew," Garrison said. "So it's tough to hear that when you wake up in the morning. He was a good person, so it's a tough loss for everybody that knew him."

While Garrison (White Rock) and Montador (Vancouver) are both from British Columbia, they first met in the Panthers organization. Garrison signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008 just as Montador was wrapping up his tenure with Florida (2005-08). They never played together, but Garrison said they often worked out in the summer, including a training session in Vail.

"(I'll remember) his charisma and his energy," Garrison said. "He always was so positive. He always had such good vibes about him. He just seemed like he was happy at all times. It was obviously enjoyable every minute you spent with him." …

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Lightning sends Vladislav Namestnikov back to Syracuse

Vladislav Namestnikov, center, and the St. Louis Blues' Paul Stastny, left, vie for the puck in front of Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop. [AP photo]

Vladislav Namestnikov, center, and the St. Louis Blues' Paul Stastny, left, vie for the puck in front of Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop. [AP photo]

The Lightning has reassigned center Vladislav Namestnikov back to the Syracuse Crunch, the team announced Friday morning.

The former first-round pick was on the ice for 9:51 in Thursday night’s 6-3 loss to the Blues. In 26 games with the Lightning this season, he has three goals and four assists.

The roster move is an indication that center Cedric Paquette could be nearing a return. Paquette has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, but associate coach Rick Bowness said Thursday night that Paquette might be ready to play Sunday at San Jose.

Paquette has 11 goals and six assists this season.

 

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Blues prepare Lightning for five-game trip out west

Lightning center Steven Stamkos said last week's game at St. Louis was a well-played game that got away late.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning center Steven Stamkos said last week's game at St. Louis was a well-played game that got away late.

TAMPA -- Tonight's game against St. Louis is the midpoint in a stretch of 11 straight games for the Lightning against Western Conference opponents, and the Blues' style of play should prepare Tampa Bay for what they'll face in the next two weeks during a five-game road trip.

"The people in the East don't realize how good those teams are in the Western Conference," said associate coach Rick Bowness, who spent seven years on Vancouver's staff before coming to the Lightning in 2013. "They're big. They're physical. They're much better defensive than you realize, with the L.A. Kings last year winning the Cup with one of the best defensive teams. The Western teams, they just don't give you very much and they make you work for everything you get. ... They make it a very tough game for you to play."

The Lightning (34-16-6) faced St. Louis on the road just nine days ago, and while the game finished as a disappointing 2-1 loss, Tampa Bay led until giving up a goal with 3:10 left in the final period, holding the Blues to a season-low 18 shots in a strong night defensively. …

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Rookie Namestnikov excited to be back with Lightning

Vladislav Namestnikov totaled three goals and four assists with Tampa Bay before being sent down on Dec. 2, save for a two-game callup last month.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Vladislav Namestnikov totaled three goals and four assists with Tampa Bay before being sent down on Dec. 2, save for a two-game callup last month.

TAMPA -- Lightning rookie center Vladislav Namestnikov understood the need for him to spend most of the past two months with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, but back in the NHL for tonight's game against St. Louis, he's eager to show he can make plays at this level.

"I'm excited and looking forward to this game," said Namestnikov, who had nine goals and 15 assists in 26 games with the Crunch after opening the season with 25 games with the Lightning. "Every time I come up here I'm less nervous. I know all the guys here and that helps a lot. I've played 30 games, so I know what the league's about."

Namestnikov, 22, got more ice time in Syracuse than he would have with the Lightning -- he totaled three goals and four assists with Tampa Bay before being sent down on Dec. 2, save for a two-game callup last month. Associate coach Rick Bowness said the team called him up to be that much stronger up the middle against a St. Louis team with experience and depth at center, starting with Paul Stastny (10 goals) and David Backus (18 goals). …

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Lightning recalls Vladislav Namestnikov from Syracuse Crunch

The Lightning has recalled forward Vladislav Namestnikov from Syracuse, the team announced Wednesday evening.

The 22-year-old center appeared in 25 NHL games earlier this season, recording three goals and four assists. Namestnikov was the team’s top pick in 2011 and made the AHL all-star team this season.

The move comes a day after forward Cedric Paquette left a morning skate with an upper-body injury. He’s considered day to day but didn’t practice Wednesday.

Coach Jon Cooper said Paquette was “probably doubtful” for Thursday night’s home game against the Blues.

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Ex-Lightning goalie Evgeni Nabokov retires with San Jose Sharks

San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov smiles during a during a media conference announcing his retirement Wednesday in San Jose, Calif. [AP photo]

San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov smiles during a during a media conference announcing his retirement Wednesday in San Jose, Calif. [AP photo]

Former Lightning goalie Evgeni Nabokov formally announced his retirement Wednesday during a news conference in San Jose.

“The circle is coming to the end,” Nabokov told reporters in San Jose. “And I’m happy – I will retire as a Shark.”

Nabokov spent 10 of his 14 NHL seasons with San Jose. The Lightning traded him to the Sharks on Monday so he could retire with the team that drafted him.

In his emotional farewell news conference, Nabokov thanked the fans, coaches, trainers and teammates that supported him for his 697 career NHL games.

The Lightning signed him in the offseason to back up starter Ben Bishop. When San Jose visited Tampa Bay in November, Nabokov said he felt like he could play another five years.

But the 39-year-old was put on waivers last week after struggling (3-6-2 record, 3.15 goals-against average). He said it became difficult to practice but not play, and he wasn’t enjoying the game as much.

“The biggest thing is, you don’t really feel that you can impact the team the way you wanted to…” Nabokov said. “I came home, and I said, no point. It’s time, for sure. I don’t know if it’s physically the time or mentally the time. It’s just sort of time.” …

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Andrei Vasilevskiy's save is No. 1 on ESPN's Top 10 plays (w/video)

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy uses his left toe to block a shot by Predators center Mike Ribeiro in the first period of Tuesday's game in Nashville, Tenn.

Associated Press

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy uses his left toe to block a shot by Predators center Mike Ribeiro in the first period of Tuesday's game in Nashville, Tenn.

While the Lightning lost 3-2 in overtime to the Predators Tuesday night, touted rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stole the show.

Vasilevskiy's highlight-reel, how-did-he-do-that toe save was No. 1 on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 plays, getting more than 40,000 clicks on YouTube. On the play, Vasilevskiy, 20, was at the right post after making an initial stop on a Craig Smith shot. But when the rebound went to Mike Ribeiro in front, the Russian quickly reacted, kicking his left leg out to get his skate on the shot. (Video after the jump.)Full Story

Jason Garrison back, Cedric Paquette a game-time decision

Defenseman Jason Garrison, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, returns tonight.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Defenseman Jason Garrison, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, returns tonight.

The Lightning blueline will get a big boost tonight with the return of defenseman Jason Garrison, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury.

Garrison, who suffered the injury Thursday against the Stars, said after today's morning skate he feels good, and while he didn't like sitting out two games, it was best for the long-term.

"It's tough," Garrison said. "You've just got to sometimes do what's right, do whatever's best for the team, considering how you're feeling and what happened. Those were two games I would have loved to have played, but in the middle of the season, coming to the end, this is the time that you've got to maek sure you're feeling good."

The Lightning leaned more on rookies D Luke Witkowski and Nikita Nesterov with Garrison out. But the 6-foot-2, 218-pound veteran was definitely missed, especially against the heavy Western Conference teams. …

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