ST. PAUL, Minn. — Assuming Steven Stamkos plays Saturday at home against the Red Wings, which he has said is his target, the Lightning center will have to immediately decide if he is well enough to play for Canada at the Olympics as charter planes to take NHL players to Sochi, Russia, leave Sunday.
The decision will not only be fair to himself and the Lightning, Stamkos said, but to players who might have a shot at the Games.
"I'm not going over there for the sake of going over there and take somebody else's spot who is healthy," said Stamkos, out since Nov. 11 with a broken right tibia. "If I'm going over it is because I feel I can play at that level."
Stamkos took another step in that direction at Tuesday's morning skate, participating in at least four corner puck battles.
Stamkos not only came out of the confrontations with Marty St. Louis, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman and Ryan Malone healthy, but smiling.
"There was a little glitter in his eyes," coach Jon Cooper said.
"I was having fun," Stamkos said. "You do it the first time against Marty, you're a little hesitant. You know you can keep up with him and you go to the next guy and the next guy and you feel more confident."
Malone said he held back on Stamkos "a tiny bit," but added, "for the most part you want to make sure he's ready so you want to lean on him. You can still see the explosion he has in his legs."
Stamkos will have X-rays today and confer with doctors before getting the all-clear to play.
"I can't see anything being a problem," he said. "I just want to get the clearance and hear everything is okay. I'm just looking forward to hearing the good news and getting ready for a game."
MORE MEDICAL MATTERS: C Valtteri Filppula, out one game with what was believed a left hip/leg injury, was in the lineup Tuesday against the Wild.
PALAT HONORED: LW Ondrej Palat (five goals, 16 points in 15 games) was named NHL rookie of the month for January.
"It's awesome. I'm really happy for it," Palat said. "But I have to thank my linemates and team. I wouldn't do that without them."
Palat, 22, is fourth among league rookies with 31 points on five goals and 20 assists.
SHORT SIDE: The Lightning has six shorthanded goals, one more than its previous four seasons combined.
"The players have the green light," said associate coach Rick Bowness, who handles the penalty kill. "We get control of the puck, let's make something happen. Don't just ice it. If you can make a play, make a play."
Plus, said C Nate Thompson, whose two shorthanded goals are tied with C Tyler Johnson for the team lead, "When you're on the power play guys aren't thinking defense. It can be a little lackadaisical sometimes. That's when you catch them off guard."
HOMECOMING: In April 2011, rookie W J.T. Brown won an NCAA national title at the Xcel Energy Center when his University of Minnesota-Duluth team beat Michigan 3-2 in overtime.
On Tuesday, he played there for the first time as a pro.
"Playing in this building will always be special," said Brown, 23, of Rosemount, Minn., who had about 50 family and friends in the stands.
Brown, had two shots, a blocked shot and a hit in 13:16 of ice time. "You obviously want to win the game but there's good things to take out of it," he said. "We battled hard at the end."
ODDS AND ENDS: Riku Helenius will report back to ECHL Florida, Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois said. The struggling goalie was suspended last week for leaving the team. … The Lightning won 36 of 56 faceoffs against the Wild. Filppula won 13 of 18, Johnson 14 of 20. … St. Louis' assist gave him 966 career points to pass Maurice Richard for 85th all-time. … D Jean-Philippe Cote and F Tom Pyatt were scratched.