SAN JOSE, Calif. — Lightning coach Guy Boucher said he was surprised to see star wing Marty St. Louis on the team plane for this two-game trip to the Western Conference.
So the coach must have been shocked when St. Louis told him he was ready to return to game action Wednesday night. St. Louis was in the lineup against the Sharks for the first time since suffering facial fractures when he was struck by an errant puck Dec. 8.
St. Louis had practiced Tuesday and was on the ice for the morning skate Wednesday. And he had left open the possibility of playing, saying: "There's always a chance."
But Boucher didn't think so.
"It would take a small miracle for that to happen," Boucher said in the morning. "The timetable was always for after Christmas. He was supposed to be home now."
Instead, St. Louis was back after missing five games, wearing a full metal cage attached to his helmet. That was to protect healing injuries that halted his consecutive-games-played streak at 499.
St. Louis, 35, who is tied for second on the Lightning with 22 points, said earlier in the day that he was facing two challenges in getting back on the ice: conditioning and his vision.
"It's different," he said of the cage. "It's obviously not as clear as nothing in front of your face. It's uncharted territory for me because I haven't worn one for 14 years. But they say I need it for probably a month, so I better get used to it quick."
Boyle REUNION: Former Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle has struggled this season with the Sharks, scoring just two goals with 13 assists. He even endured a scoreless drought of nine games.
But Boyle let it slip last weekend that there's at least one reason for the slow start. He has been playing with a broken foot since blocking a shot Nov. 10 against the Wild.
"It definitely hurt my game a little bit," said Boyle, who played in 394 career games for Tampa Bay. "My game is skating, and I was definitely a step behind for many of those games and a little slower out there."
But he entered Wednesday night's game against his former team having scored four points in the previous four games.
Boyle, 35, whose wife, Amber, is from Indian Rocks Beach, still owns a condo in Clearwater and an ocean lot in Tierra Verde. He said he has fond memories of his time with the Lightning.
"But there's not too many familiar faces there anymore," he said. "I think there's only three guys left from the (Stanley) Cup team in 2004. There's been a lot of change."
At the ready, again: The Lightning recalled winger J.T. Wyman and defenseman Evan Oberg from Norfolk of the American Hockey League for this trip. But neither was in the lineup Wednesday.
For the well-traveled Oberg, who was acquired from the Panthers organization Dec. 2, this already is the fourth time he has been called up by the Lightning.
"Any moment it could be his turn," Boucher said. "He's the next in line. He's been going back and forth, and I'm hoping that he does get rewarded for all the traveling that he's been doing."