TAMPA — So much attention has been paid to Steven Stamkos perhaps playing for Canada at next month's Olympics, his responsibility to the Lightning has been somewhat overlooked.
But after participating in a morning skate Thursday for the first time since he fractured the tibia in his right leg Nov. 11 at Boston, Stamkos put Tampa Bay, 16-10-5 without him and second in the Atlantic Division, in the forefront.
"I'm proud of the guys, the way they've been playing," he said. "I just want to get back and help this team win. I think we can do something special this year. I'm looking forward to contributing."
"I'm just waiting for the day," coach Jon Cooper said. "It'll be like a mini little post-Christmas when (head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan) comes in and says 91 is ready to go."
Stamkos stressed he will not play in the Olympics unless he is 100 percent healthy. He also wants to play at least two games for the Lightning first. That would put him in a game no later than Feb. 6 at home against the Maple Leafs.
At the morning skate, Stamkos, who had 14 goals in 17 games when he was injured, wore a red no-contact jersey. He reiterated he still has pain, especially when he makes quick turns and accelerates from a stop.
Still, "It felt great," he said. "It's probably the best it's felt. It's not practice, but it felt nice to be out there with the guys."
"He definitely lightened things up," Cooper said. "His mouth was running a little bit. … To have him out there, I could just tell everybody had a little jump. You could tell there was a lot of hope on the ice there when he was going."
About the only thing Stamkos did not do Thursday was participate in power-play practice.
"He's been pretty eager to get out there," Cooper said. "I think I was talking about his head's farther ahead than his leg. I have no problem with that. I like his energy."
300: D Victor Hedman played his 300th NHL game Thursday and agreed with former Lightning coach John Tortorella that defensemen need that many games to figure out the position.
"Yeah, that's a good number for me," said Hedman, 23, in his fifth season. "This year has been by far the best for me personally."
Hedman's 10 goals are tied for fourth in the league among defensemen, and his 26 points tied his career best.
"The biggest thing is the consistency in my game," he said. "That gains me confidence when you feel you can play your best and make plays on a night-to-night basis."
MINOR MOVE: With D Keith Aulie (hand) almost ready, D Andrej Sustr was reassigned to AHL Syracuse.
MEDICAL MATTERS: D Sami Salo (ankle), back in the lineup after missing two games, left briefly in the second period after he hit his head on the ice when inadvertently tripped by a teammate. … C Nate Thompson (flu) was in after missing one game.
ODDS AND ENDS: RW Marty St. Louis has four goals and three assists in a six-game points streak. … Sustr, RW B.J. Crombeen and D Mark Barberio were scratched.