Filppula ready to go vs. Blues, Johnson a question mark
The Lightning will get a huge piece to its puzzle back tonight against the Blues as center Valtteri Filppula said his fractured right ankle feels strong enough to play. But the team might be without center Tyler Johnson, who has been dealing with a sore (at least) left foot since being hit by a puck Feb. 4 at Minnesota.
As expected, defenseman Radko Gudas is out with a lower-body injury that will be reevaluated Wednesday in Tampa.
But Filppula, who took a puck off the ankle Feb. 6 against the Maple Leafs and has missed four games with a non-displaced fracture, looked good at the morning skate and said afterward the strength issue in the ankle was resolved.
"The strength felt better," he said. "That was the main thing, to get that back. This is going to be a good test, the game. You don't really know before you play. We'll see after the game how it really worked."
Filppula has 21 goals, 41 points in 56 games. But getting him back will help the Lightning, losers of six of nine, in several ways. Filppula wins 51.9 percent of his faceoffs. In the four games he has missed, the Lightning has won just 44.6 percent.
Filppula also has tremendous puck possession skills, something that will help the team overcome those moments that have increased in recent games in which the Lightning is pinned in its own end.
"It's going to be sore for a while," Filppula said of his ankle. "But I feel comfortable turning and I have the strength in my leg. That's the main thing."
It will be interesting to see if Johnson will play. He has been a good soldier while Tampa Bay was without its top-two centers (Stamkos included), but he has zero goals and just two assists in the five games since he was injured and has ot gotten a shot on goal the past two games.
STAMKOS EXAM WEDNESDAY
Stamkos will be X-rayed Wednesday in order to determine if he can play Thursday at home against the Sabres.
"I know that what I think absolutely means nothing, but I feel great," Stamkos said. "I feel the last two weeks I've felt ready to play. We'll see what happens (Wednesday)."
Stamkos will miss his 45th game tonight against the Blues.
"It's driven me crazy since the beginning," he said of not playing. "This is the grind of the season. For me, I just want to get back and help this team as much as I can. This is an important time of the year, so hopefully I can come back fresh and feel good."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Goaltender Ben Bishop, who grew up in St. Louis, said playing his first NHL regular-season game there will be fun but not a huge deal. "Just because you're playing in front of family and friends, it's always nice to play well," he said. "I feel I've played a lot of games. One game is not going to make a difference." ... If Johnson does not play, figure Tom Pyatt will be between Marty St. Louis and Ondrej Palat. ... Goalie Anders Lindback (ankle) returned from his two-game conditioning assignment at AHL Syracuse and tonight will back up Bishop. "It benefited me knowing I can trust the ankle," Lindback said. ... Not very long ago, the Lightning was 11 points ahead of the ninth-place team in the East. The gap is down to five. "I'm not big into the standings watching," Cooper said. "I just think it takes the focus off the task at hand. Our task is to beat St. Louis. The minute you start fearing what's behind you, all of a sudden you take your focus off what's important. We haven't looked at the standings all year, so why now? Look at the standings after Game 82 and see where you land and, hopefully, you're in the tournament."