TORONTO — Captain Steven Stamkos said it's unlikely he'll return by the end of the Lightning's regular season, admitting Thursday his recovery from right knee surgery has hit a "plateau."
"It's probably not looking that good," Stamkos said of coming back. "It's frustrating from an individual perspective, where I want to be out there trying to help my team, especially at this (time of) year, but (the knee) just doesn't feel right."
Stamkos didn't feel good enough to play in the Lightning's two biggest games of the year, Tuesday in Boston and Thursday in Toronto. The Lightning has two games remaining, tonight in Montreal and Sunday at home against Buffalo.
"If it doesn't feel right, you can't expect to be able to go out there and do the things you can when you're healthy," Stamkos said. "Obviously, with a significant injury, which it was, we want to make sure things heal so you don't have to deal with it again.
"It's tough. I want to be out there as much as anyone. I think I showed that last year coming back for Game 7 (of the Eastern Conference final after missing time with a blood clot)."
It sounded like Stamkos was going to return last weekend, when coach Jon Cooper put him in the day-to-day category, calling him "pretty close." But Stamkos said Thursday that though his recovery has progressed, his knee bend is still "very limited."
"We kind of hit a plateau; it was frustrating," Stamkos said. "There was no setback. Everything still progressed. But it wasn't a minor procedure. This is pretty major, and there are a lot of working parts when it comes to the knee, with having the tissue heal, scar tissue, things that are kind of behind the scenes that have been tough. We've been working hard. Just hasn't been there yet."
Johnny be good?
C Tyler Johnson did not play Thursday as he continues to be hampered by a lower-body injury that recently sidelined him for 11 games. Johnson came back Sunday against Dallas but got banged up again Tuesday in Boston. A few times in that game, he hobbled over to the bench.
"Give Johnson a lot of credit. He's been trying to game it out," coach Jon Cooper said. "But the Boston game, he ran into a couple tough situations. We need him feeling better than he was in the Boston game or he won't be able to go. I know he has been fighting it."
D Jason Garrison and forwards J.T. Brown, Cedric Paquette and Joel Vermin were also scratched.
. Cool moment when Lightning fan Noah Evans, a 10-year-old from Newfoundland, had his Facebook birthday wish granted and got to meet Steven Stamkos after Thursday's skate (right). Stamkos gave Noah a signed stick and spent time with him.
. With recalls Cory Conacher and Michael Bournival playing, five of the 12 forwards in the Lightning lineup Thursday began the season in AHL Syracuse.
. Congratulations to wing Gabriel Dumont, who rejoined the team after being with his wife, Stephanie, for the birth of their second child, a boy named Lucas.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.