ORLANDO — After several of Steven Stamkos' shots missed the net during a just-for-fun half-ice scrimmage Thursday at the RDV Sportsplex, Lightning coach Jon Cooper chirped at his star center.
"I was ribbing him that his scope was off a little bit," Cooper said. "All he did was whip in and scored the winning goal."
"It felt great out there," Stamkos said of the broken right tibia that has kept him out of 41 games. "The best it's felt."
As it turned out, missing the Olympics, as disappointing as that was, probably was best for Stamkos, who pushed his rehabilitation hard to play for Canada.
A CT scan Feb. 5 indicated the bone — broken Nov. 11 in Boston when Stamkos crashed into a goal post — was not sufficiently healed. So instead of heading to Sochi, Russia, Stamkos, 24, split time skating and lying on a beach during the 10-day break in practice mandated by the league.
"It did feel good, but it feels even better now," Stamkos said of his leg. "Maybe I wasn't as far along as I thought, knowing how much better it has felt now that I have kept working on it and taking a couple of days off. It's just going to continually get better, and that's positive knowing it's doing that."
Stamkos said he is "definitely very close" to being cleared to play and likely will have an X-ray Monday in Tampa.
The best-case scenario is he plays when the season resumes Feb. 27 at Nashville. The worst-case scenario, he said, is his return is delayed until March 6, when the Lightning begins a homestand against the Sabres.
"He looks really good," Cooper said. "I think if you were to ask him if he could play right now, he would definitely say he could. There were a lot of times he said he was okay, but you could tell he was feeling the effects of some pain. I don't see that anymore. Time is healing the wound."
As for the wound of not playing in the Olympics, Stamkos, 24, said it was most raw the day he learned it would not happen and then went home and saw his Team Canada paraphernalia.
"Probably took a couple of days," he said of getting his head right.
"I think now it was kind of a relief for that whole thing to be over and done with," he said of pushing to play in the Olympics, "just to get all that stuff out of the way and to focus on one thing, and that's getting back and playing for Tampa."
ON ICE: C Valtteri Filppula (ankle), C Tyler Johnson (foot) and D Matt Carle (foot) missed a second consecutive practice. None are expected to skate before Monday, Cooper said.
MOVES: G Anders Lindback (ankle) has said he expected to be ready for the Nashville game. But Cooper said if the game had been played Thursday, Lindback would have been scratched. That means G Kristers Gudlevskis, coming off a jaw-dropping 55-save effort for Latvia in a 2-1 loss to Canada in the Olympic quarterfinals, will join Tampa Bay, at least temporarily, as insurance. … RW Richard Panik, who played for Slovakia at the Olympics, will return to AHL Syracuse.
SCHEDULE: Practices are at 10:30 a.m. today and Saturday at the RDV Sportsplex. Both practices are open to the public.