Lightning captain Steven Stamkos isn't one for suspense, or even a little gamesmanship.
When asked after Monday's optional morning skate if he'd be in the lineup tonight for Game 2, Stamkos quipped, "You'll have to find out."
But before Twitter could explode with speculation, Stamkos quickly shot that down, clarifying his playing status as he still deals with blood thinner medication. Stamkos said he won't play tonight, and while he could be available later in the series, there's also a real chance he might not play in these playoffs at all.
Stamkos, who had surgery to repair a blood clot April 4, said he's still on the same two-a-day injections of blood thinners, with no specific timetable to get off them and resume playing. And he made it clear he won't put his life in danger even to chase the Stanley Cup.
"No rush at all," Stamkos said. "We've done our due diligence. It's been a process. Safety first, health first. It hasn't changed. I know as an athlete, you're willing to do whatever it takes. Trust me, I've tried. But that's the toughest part, for sure, to try to walk that line."
Stamkos, who is six weeks in to the 1-3 month expected recovery time, had said there are ways to still be on certain regimens of blood thinners and play in a game, if he alters the timing of his doses. He said it's reassuring to know other NHL players, like Kimmo Timonen, have done it, and he's explored that option.
"It's just a matter of how long do you have to be on the twice a day injections, versus if you played, you have to skip an injection," Stamkos said. "Those guys who have played have done an injection, skipped a dose, played and they're ultimately as safe as anyone in this room. Those are the things that obviously we're exploring. You read different stories about guys like Pascal Dupuis that have played on that type of regimen."
But Stamkos' blood clot — Thoracic Outlet Syndrome — is a different condition, the same one backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had in September, sidelining him for seven weeks. Stamkos confirmed he's on Lovenox. Dr. Karl Illig, Stamkos' surgeon, said a player can resume playing 8-10 hours after getting off it.
The million dollar question is when Stamkos can stop taking blood thinners, and how will they know it's safe to do so? Illig said, in general, it's pretty subjective, with no perfect answer. Illig said some of it involves clot burden, status of vessels and the patients' psychology. Stamkos said Vasilevskiy was off blood thinners when he returned.
Even when Stamkos is off blood thinners, or finds the right regimen, he admits he'll have to participate in a couple practices, get "bumped" before getting back in the lineup.
"I know (coach Jon Cooper) said it's kind of a holding pattern, and it really is," Stamkos said. "There's still a chance I can play in this series, there's still a chance I may not be able to play the rest of the playoffs. That's honestly the truth. It's tough for me to feel so physically close. But whether it's Game 3, 4 or 5, or whether it's the reality that it's just not going to be in the best interest of my long term health to play in the playoffs. Those are questions we're getting closer and closer to getting answered."