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Stamkos targeting Saturday return at home vs Red Wings




Steven Stamkos finally has a firm date in mind to play: Saturday at home against the Red Wings.

The Lightning's star center on Monday participated in his most physical practice to date since breaking his right tibia Nov. 11 at Boston, and said he then told coach Jon Cooper Saturday will be the day. Stamkos also said he will base his Olympic participation for Canada on how he feels off that game.

There are still a couple of hurdles before Stamkos gets into Saturday's game. The leg has to respond positively after Monday's practice, and the X-ray he will take when the team returns home after Tuesday's game at Minnesota has to show continued mending.

But Stamkos is confident, saying the X-ray will "be like a double-check to make sure everything still looks great, which I can't imagine it doesn't by how it feels."

"It's the best day it's felt," Stamkos added. "It felt great going up and down the ice, the lungs felt pretty good. It was nice to snap around on the power play a little bit, too. It was a big hurdle for me today. A lot of it is physical but there's a mental side and today was climbing over another hurdle."

While Monday's practice was not a terribly demanding one physically, Stamkos was bumped pretty good by some of his teammates and also participated for the first time in power-play practice. As he pointed out, he was 1-for-1 on faceoffs.

The funny part was that it was clear Stamkos' teammates were hesitant to fully engage him, prompting coach Jon Cooper to push his players a bit.

"I could see every time he had the puck no one would go near him," Cooper said. "I said, 'He's wearing a white jersey but he's not an egg, somebody hit him. Let's see what we've got here.' That probably helped out a little bit. I don't know how much but at least guys bumped into him."

And how did Stamkos look?

"I thought that was the best he's looked since he's been on the ice," Cooper said. "By no means was that a physically demanding battle practice, but he did every drill and he looked good while doing it. You could tell he had a little jump in his step."

Stamkos said he still is not without pain (there is plenty of scar tissue yet to break down) but on Monday the pain was manageable, he said. He also said the bone, while not fully healed, "Is healed to a point where it's strong enough to play."

And because of the titanium rod that was inserted in the bone to promote healing and create stability, Stamkos said, "It's probably stronger than my other one."

As for playing for Canada at the Olympics, Stamkos said he will see how he feels after Saturday's game.

"I'm not going to go over there for the sake of going over there and take somebody else's spot who is healthy and can go over there," Stamkos said. "It's going to be a close call, but I'm going to keep progressing and do everything I can do."

As for playing Saturday at home against the Red Wings, Cooper said, "If a doctor comes in and says, 'You're cleared to play, have at it,' I can't write his name down fast enough."

[Last modified: Monday, February 3, 2014 5:30pm]


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