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Jonathan Drouin: 'I definitely want to be here'

Jonathan Drouin was one of the biggest stars in the postseason, with five goals and nine assists in 17 games.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Jonathan Drouin was one of the biggest stars in the postseason, with five goals and nine assists in 17 games.

The relationship between wing Jonathan Drouin and the Lightning seemingly has been salvaged.

Drouin, 21, who requested a trade in November before a six-week holdout, indicated that demand is off the table, saying he expects to be back in Tampa Bay next season and beyond.

"I definitley want to be here," Drouin said. "I love the way this ended, I guess with this different and weird year. But the way this finished and it's definitely somewhere I want to play."

Drouin, who returned to AHL Syracuse after the Feb. 29 trade deadline passed, was one of the biggest stars in the postseason, with five goals and nine assists in 17 games. He's shown why the Lightning drafted  him No. 3 overall in 2013.

The Lightning was under no obligation to trade Drouin, who won't be a restricted free agent until after next season. And GM Steve Yzerman certainly isn't planning to.

"He makes us a better team, it's as simple as that," Yzerman said. "What he showed me, I think the best thing for this team right now is Jonathan Drouin on it."

More from today's exit interviews: …

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Steven Stamkos, Lightning still hopeful a deal can be reached

Steven Stamkos signs autographs to some of the approximately 100 fans lined up around 3 a.m. Friday to greet the Lightning at the Tampa Jet Center following the team's Game 7 loss to the Penguins.

LUIS SANTANA | Times

Steven Stamkos signs autographs to some of the approximately 100 fans lined up around 3 a.m. Friday to greet the Lightning at the Tampa Jet Center following the team's Game 7 loss to the Penguins.

Captain Steven Stamkos said he's never thought he's taken his Lightning jersey off for the final times.

And Stamkos, due to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, maintains he "definitely" wants to stay in Tampa Bay long-term, he and the team still hopeful something can get done.

"I hope to be back," Stamkos said. "We have some unfinished business. This group has been unbelievable, this city has been unbelievable to me. I can't believe it's been eight years already, time flies. The last couple years, you can finally see that light, you still haven't got to it, but it's there, it's dangling right in front of us. When you start something, you want to finish it, and i really hope that can be the case."

Stamkos, who returned to the lineup for Thursday's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final after missing two months due to a blood clot, said he'll need a few weeks to give his mind a break. But Stamkos plans to discuss with his family, agents, and GM Steve Yzerman in coming weeks potentially coming back. …

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Steven Stamkos in Lightning lineup for Game 7

Steven Stamkos hasn't played since Mar. 31, undergoing surgery April 4 to repair a blood clot in his collarbone area.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos hasn't played since Mar. 31, undergoing surgery April 4 to repair a blood clot in his collarbone area.

Steven Stamkos is back.

The Lightning captain made his much-anticipted return for Thursday's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. He hadn't played since Mar. 31, working his way back from April 4 surgery to repair a blood clot in his right collarbone area, a condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Stamkos' surgeon, Dr. Karl Illlig, told the Tampa Bay Times Thursday he cleared the All-Star a while ago, but the issues were him still being on blood thinners; players can't participate in games on blood thinners. Illig said Stamkos received several opinions from hematologists, and made his decision to return tonight, a decision Illig supports.

Stamkos had said he may never get a 100-percent "green light" or "red light" from doctors.

"In all of life, it's risk vs. benefit,"' Illig said by phone Thursday night. "Steven's risks are very, very low. I support him. I think he's doing the right thing." …

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Lightning watch party moved per NHL policy

Fans pile inside the Channelside Bay Plaza during an official Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup Playoffs watch party March 13 in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Fans pile inside the Channelside Bay Plaza during an official Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup Playoffs watch party March 13 in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

The Lightning's watch party for tonight's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final has been moved from Thunder Alley to Channelside, the team saying it is to accommodate more fans. 

But it's also apparently to fall in line with an NHL policy that allows each team only one watch party per playoff round. 

NHL spokesman John Dellapina said it's not a new policy and all teams were reminded with a note on April 12. The Lightning held a watch party outside Amalie Arena for Game 1, 2 and 5 of this series. While Deadspin reported the Lightning was threatened with a fine if it held another one, neither the NHL or the team has commented on that.

One thought is that watch party could take away from ratings, but NBC declined comment today. 

Tonight's watch party in Channelside will start at 7:30 p.m.

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No Steven Stamkos, Ben Bishop for Game 7

Steven Stamkos, sidelined since April 4 surgery to repair a blood clot, said his status hasn't changed. He would need to get off blood thinners, or be on a different regimen, to play.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos, sidelined since April 4 surgery to repair a blood clot, said his status hasn't changed. He would need to get off blood thinners, or be on a different regimen, to play.

With the Lightning's season on the line in tonight's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, it needs all the help it can get.

"You want to be part of it," captain Steven Stamkos said.

But Stamkos (blood clot) and goalie Ben Bishop (lower left leg) aren't expected to be available for tonight's game at Consol Energy Center. Stamkos, sidelined since April 4 surgery to repair a blood clot, said his status hasn't changed. He would need to get off blood thinners, or be on a different regimen, to play.

"There's nothing to update," Stamkos said. "That's all I can say."

Bishop, out since getting hurt in Game 1, was one of the last Lightning players on the ice at today's optional skate. While Bishop continues to make progress, he's still not ready, making tonight's decision easy.

"It wasn't really much of a thought," Bishop said. "I'm not there yet. You want to be out there, but it's not that close yet, but it's not that close yet to have to debate."

Bishop is still targeting the Cup Final, if the team advances, to return.

"In four or five more days, we'll see," he said. "We'll kind of be in that maybe you can play, maybe you can't." …

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Bishop unlikely to play in Game 7, Stamkos status unchanged

Ben Bishop (lower left leg) has continued to progress from an injury suffered in Game 1, but told the Tampa Bay Times it's "still not there yet," and he didn't want to jump right back in.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop (lower left leg) has continued to progress from an injury suffered in Game 1, but told the Tampa Bay Times it's "still not there yet," and he didn't want to jump right back in.

With the Lightning's season on the line in Thursday's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, the natural inclination is to wonder if two of the team's biggest stars, captain Steven Stamkos and goalie Ben Bishop, might return for it.

But it certainly sounds likely that neither will be available for the must-win game against the Penguins.

Bishop (lower left leg) has continued to progress from an injury suffered in Game 1, but told the Tampa Bay Times it's "still not there yet," and he didn't want to jump right back in.

"Not a lot has changed," coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday before flying to Pittsburgh. "We'll get together tonight as a staff and see where everybody is, but as of now, I don't anticipate Ben being in."

Stamkos (blood clot) has continued to practice with the team, feeling like he could play, but is still awaiting a decision whether he can play while on blood thinners or on a different regimen. Cooper said today nothing has changed in Stamkos' status.

 

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Matt Murray to start for Penguins, Vasilevskiy for Lightning

Coach Mike Sullivan said going with Matt Murray gives the Penguins the best chance to win.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Coach Mike Sullivan said going with Matt Murray gives the Penguins the best chance to win.

With the Penguins season on the line, they are making another switch in net, rookie Matt Murray to start tonight in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.

The Lightning lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. Veteran Marc-Andre Fleury made his first playoff start in Game 5, losing 4-3 in overtime. Coach Mike Sullivan said going with Murray gives them the best chance to win.

"It's a tough situation," Sullivan said. "But it is what it is. We have to make the best decision and that's what we're trying to do."

Murray had gotten the Penguins this far, serving as the starter during this playoff run. Sullivan cited his past performance, as well as his "calming" influence.

"His performance speaks for itself," Sullivan said.

While the Penguins are certainly confident - star Evgeni Malkin guaranteeing Monday that they'd be  heading back to Pittsburgh for Thursday's Game 7 - the Lightning feels the same way. The Lightning learned from its experience in last year's Eastern Conference Final, when it failed to close out the series at  home in Game 6 after a Game 5 win in New York. …

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Penguins' Malkin guarantees victory in Game 6

Evgeni Malkin battles the Lightning's Matt Carle during Game 5.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Evgeni Malkin battles the Lightning's Matt Carle during Game 5.

The Lightning is going to have to go back to Pittsburgh.

At least, that's according to Penguins star Evgeni Malkin, who is confident his team can win Tuesday in Game 6 at Amalie Arena and force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final Thursday in Pittsburgh.

"I believe in my team. I believe in myself," Malkin said. "We're coming back to Pittsburgh (for Game 7) for sure."

The Lightning rallied to beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in overtime Sunday, overcoming a two-goal, second-period deficit. Nikita Kucherov, with two goals, forced overtime with three minutes left in regulation, Tyler Johnson scoring the winner 53 seconds into overtime.

The Lightning didn't have any issues with Malkin's statement, saying it's only natural.

"What's he supposed to say in that situation? 'We're done. We're just going down as a formality'?" coach Jon Cooper said. "Of course they're going to say they're going to win, and they should. They're a good team, a good, confident group, but we feel the same way. But, look, you've got to win four, and we're a little closer to four than they are, but you've still got to get four, and that's all our group is thinking about is let's just get that fourth one." …

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Fleury in for Penguins, still no Bishop or Stamkos

The Penguins have made a switch in goal, turning to veteran and Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Marc Andre Fleury for Game 5 tonight against the Lightning.

Fleury, who relieved Matt Murray in the third period of Game 4 in Tampa,  hasn't started a game since late March. But wing Chris Kunitz said Fleury might have been their best player this season, coach Mike Sullivan believing it gives his team the best chance to win. The best of seven series is tied 2-2.

"We're going to go out there and play our best for him," Kunitz said.

For the Lightning, there won't be a change in net, with backup Andrei Vasilevskiy set to make his fourth straight start. Starter Ben Bishop participated in today's optional skate, but mostly worked on the side with goalie coach Frantz Jean.

Bishop, who suffered a lower left leg injury in Game 1, doesn't feel ready to return, and while he's hopeful to be back in this series, he won't rush it. …

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Lightning without Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos for Game 4

Ben Bishop won't play tonight in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, holding out hope there's a chance for Sunday's Game 5.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop won't play tonight in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, holding out hope there's a chance for Sunday's Game 5.

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop continued to make progress in his recovery from a left leg injury, participating in his second straight team skate.

But Bishop won't play tonight in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, holding out hope there's a chance for Sunday's Game 5.

"We'll see," Bishop said. "Take it day by day."

Bishop, who got hurt in Game 1, worked out on one half of the ice, trying different side to side and up and down movements. He also faced shots, but didn't appear to be moving as quickly or forcefully. "It's getting better," Bishop said of his range of motion. "(Friday) was better than (Thursday). Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his third straight start in net, having stopped 82 of 89 shots the past two.

"That's the last thing we have to worry about right now is the goaltending situation," captain Steven Stamkos said. "If it weren't for Vasy the last couple games, it could be a lot worse."

Speaking of Stamkos, he also will not play tonight. But Stamkos continued to participate in team skate, still hoping he can return in the playoffs, but understanding he might not be able to. …

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Steven Stamkos says a 'real possibility' he doesn't play

After two days without skating, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was back on the ice for Thursday's practice.

Stamkos (blood clot) is still in a"holding pattern," saying his status hasn't changed, admitting there's just a 5-percent chance he plays in Friday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

While no decision has been made, Stamkos, 26, says there's a "real possibility" he doesn't play at all in these playoffs. It just might not be worth the risk to his long-term health, his life.

"I don't think in this situation you're going to get 100-percent green light, or 100 percent red light," Stamkos said. "That's just the way it is. It's just something that hasn't been studied, hasn't been a lot of data on coming back from something like this. The more opinions you get, the more information you gather, sometimes the more confusing it gets. For me, I always try to gather as much information with my family, my agents, and friends, the team, and just put it all together. And obviously we don't have all the information right now, so I can't exactly say when that decision has to be made." …

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Lightning goalie Ben Bishop 'doubtful' for Game 4 (w video)

Ben Bishop remains "hopeful" he'll return during this series, admitting it's been tough to get hurt late in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ben Bishop remains "hopeful" he'll return during this series, admitting it's been tough to get hurt late in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is getting closer to a potential return, participating in Thursday's practice at Amalie Arena.

"A step in the right direction," he said.

But coach Jon Cooper maintained that Bishop is "doubutful" for Friday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, so Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to make his third straight start. Bishop split drills with Kristers Gudlevskis at one side of the rink, facing shots and working on his movements. He admits it's been a slow process, especially when it comes to moving up and down.

"Still not there yet," he said. "But getting better."

Bishop remains "hopeful" he'll return during this series, admitting it's been tough to get hurt late in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. He missed a game in the Stanley Cup Final last year with a torn groin.

“There’s two ways to look at it," Bishop said. "It’s really bad luck but at the same time you’re in the conference finals of the Stanley cup so there are only eight goalies who can get hurt. So there’s two ways to look at it. It’s obviously unfortunate but at the same time we’re still playing hockey, so that’s the positive."

 

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Podcast: Talking Lightning-Penguins + return of Bishop/Stamkos

The Lightning got a split the first two games in Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Final.

But can it advance past the Penguins?

Times columnist Tom Jones and I break down the first two games of the series, and look ahead to what's in store. When will goalie Ben Bishop return? Has Steven Stamkos played his final game of the season? Can the Lightning win a series with Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal.

That, and more, in this podcast.

(Click below to listen)

 

 

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Ben Bishop on ice before skate, getting closer

While Ben Bishop won't play in tonight's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, coach Jon Cooper is hopeful the Vezina Trophy finalist will join the team for practice Thursday and come back in the series.

DIRK SHADD | Times

While Ben Bishop won't play in tonight's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, coach Jon Cooper is hopeful the Vezina Trophy finalist will join the team for practice Thursday and come back in the series.

Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop took another step closer to a return, working out on the ice in full gear before Wednesday's morning skate.

He worked on his movements, facing shots from goalie coach Frantz Jean.

While Bishop won't play in tonight's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, coach Jon Cooper is hopeful the Vezina Trophy finalist will join the team for practice Thursday and come back in the series.

"Ben skated today, and he will not be in the lineup tonight, but he's progressing," Cooper said. "After today's game, I think now we're teetering on whether he can be back. There's no guarantees in that. But he's been making gradual steps everyday and he was going up and down today in his pads."

Right wing Ryan Callahan, who missed Monday's Game 2 with the flu, was back on the ice for the optional morning skate. He said he's feeling better, and is good to go for tonight.  …

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Today! Live Lightning chat with Joe Smith, 1 p.m.

Joe Smith

Times files

Joe Smith

Want to know the latest on the status of Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos? How Ryan Callahan is feeling? How Anton Stralman looked in his return to the lineup? If the Lightning is on your mind, then you've come to the right place.

Times beat reporter Joe Smith will answer your questions during a live chat today, from 1-2 p.m. Click on this link to join the chat. We hope you'll join us.

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