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Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos confident he's 'good to go'

Lightning center Steven Stamkos says his back is feeling better and shouldn’t keep him out: “I can’t see myself not playing.”

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Lightning center Steven Stamkos says his back is feeling better and shouldn’t keep him out: “I can’t see myself not playing.”

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos admitted he did not sleep well Sunday night. Constant pain that keeps one from finding a comfortable position will do that.

But the Lightning's star center seemed confident the lower-back contusion that limited his ice time and effectiveness in Sunday's loss to the Penguins will not keep him from playing tonight against the Coyotes at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"I think I'll be good to go," Stamkos said. "I can't see myself not playing."

Good news for a team clinging to playoff hopes while suddenly needing extra ice and Ace bandages in the training room.

Left wing Ryan Malone (upper body) missed three of the past four games. Center Zenon Konopka (mild disc herniation) missed the past five. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund is out indefinitely with a left ankle sprain.

And then there are the "bumps and bruises" with which Marty St. Louis is dealing.

"I don't think it's something that will affect my play down the stretch," said the left wing, who has a team-best 81 points.

"At this time of year, everybody plays with bumps and bruises. You just try to help the team as much as you can. Have I felt better physically? Yeah, but … you don't want to miss games with bruises. You have to fight through it. Everybody fights through it at this time of the year."

Including Stamkos, third in the league with 42 goals.

"He gutted it out (Sunday)," coach Rick Tocchet said. "I'm proud of him."

Stamkos, 20, was hurt after a hit from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. Off balance because he was shooting, Stamkos was knocked over and skidded hard into the boards.

"I knew it when I hit that something wasn't right," he said.

Stamkos, who said the check was clean — "a good, hard hit" — stayed in the game but had just 17:59 of ice time, 2:12 less than his average. After the game, the contusion, which extends to the top of his left gluteus, had him walking stiffly.

"It's on the left side. The left leg part is where it is limiting me," said Stamkos, who with St. Louis did not skate in Monday's optional practice. "It's just the stopping and the starting and getting it back up to gear. That's where you really feel it."

That said, he added, "I can tell it's starting to feel a little better just from working on it two hours (Monday) morning. It's stiff, but that's to be expected."

Asked how his second-year star is doing, Tocchet joked, "I'm trying not to go near him because of what he might say."

Captain Vinny Lecavalier did not seem worried.

"If he's saying he's playing, then he's going to play," he said.

If Stamkos can't, Lecavalier will be counted on to pick up some of the slack. With five goals in his past six games, the center is playing his best of the season.

"But you need everybody," he said. "No matter how well a line plays or a player plays, it's tough to replace Steven. He's one of the reasons we're where we're at."

In the thick of a playoff race with 14 games left.

"You hate to put too much pressure on a team, but (today) is a must-win," Tocchet said. "We've got to find a way to get the two points."

With or without Stamkos.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos confident he's 'good to go' 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 1:10am]
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