BRANDON — C Steven Stamkos practiced at full speed Wednesday, skating up and down the ice during 2-on-1 drills during the Lightning's lengthy practice. The lower-body injury that kept him out of the final three regular-season games appears to no longer be an issue.
Coach Jon Cooper said the plan is for Stamkos to play Thursday during Game 1 of the quarterfinal series against the Devils.
"And we'll go from there," Cooper said.
Stamkos said it was the best he has felt in "a couple of weeks, really. I'm feeling good."
Welcome to the real show, boys
C Tony Cirelli, who has played all of 19 NHL games, is one of four Lightning players making his playoff debut Thursday night. The others are C Brayden Point, C Yanni Gourde and D Mikhail Sergachev.
"It's definitely a little nerve-wracking. Definitely really anxious and really excited," Cirelli said after Wednesday's practice. "The guys have been saying playoffs are the most fun you're going to have."
The vets have been prepping the young players on what to expect, though the young guys know it is something they have to experience to understand.
"I guess the mentality changes because it's the playoffs, every game and every shift means more than it did in the regular season," Point said. "Guys are going to sell out and the other team is going to be working that much harder, too, because the season is on the line, every shift, every series. I think the mentality changes but you try not to change your game too much, try to play within yourself, try not to do too much, but at the same time you can't be shy."
Stamkos said the message is simple.
"Just enjoy it. It's the most fun hockey you are going to have. It's the most intense hockey you are going to play," Stamkos said. "Just realize that every shift can be a difference in a game, not to shy away from that, but to embrace that. You can play with a little bit of nervousness, anxiousness and excitement but don't play scared."
He said it
"There's a quiet confidence in the room. I can feel it going around. I don't throw those words out but there's a good vibe down there right now." — Cooper
He said it II
"Just the pain of watching someone else celebrate something you wanted so badly is pretty tough. Whenever you think about it, it still is in there for sure." — C Tyler Johnson on still being motivated by losing to Chicago in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals
By the numbers
21 Career playoff goals by RW Nikita Kucherov (43 games) and Johnson (47 games)
31 Career playoff assists by D Victor Hedman (66 games)
42 Career playoff points by Johnson.
Contact roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50.