TAMPA — Forward Ondrej Palat came bustling into the Lightning dressing room after Monday's practice, taking a deep breath only once he plopped into his locker stall.
The last player off the ice, Palat had just completed his first full practice with a specific spot on a line for the first time since his injury. The top line at that.
He has missed the past 15 games with a lower-body injury.
"When you're hurt, you're not going on the ice and you're doing cardio in the game," Palat said moments after he sat in his locker. "But you can do as much cardio as you can and still feel not in shape. It's good that I can skate and I can get in shape. When you do some skating by yourself and go in the game, it's not the same."
Palat might not have to wait long. He could return as soon as Tuesday against Anaheim. Lightning coach Jon Cooper listed him as day-to-day.
But does Palat feel ready to play if inserted into the lineup against the Ducks?
"I think so," he said. "I felt good today. But it was my first full practice in an actual line today, so we will see."
If he plays, it would mark the first game action for Palat since he left the game against Vegas after blocking a shot. He has spent time around the team, but he has not joined the team for road trips. These trips provide players with a chance to hang out and bond away from home, something Palat said he has missed.
"It's just nice to feel a part of the team again and be on the ice with the guys," Palat said.
Palat is interested in more than just being around the team, though. He wants to skate and contribute. Prior to his injury, Palat tallied five assists and a plus-minus of plus-three.
He knows it will take time to regain that momentum upon his return.
"The most difficult thing is probably the timing and adjusting to the game tempo," Palat said. "It is just adjusting to the timing of the game."
Stamkos misses practice
The spot Palat filled on the top line in Monday's practice belongs to captain Steven Stamkos. He missed practice for what the team called a body maintenance day.
The day off comes after he left the ice during play with two minutes left in the second period on Sunday against the Devils. He went straight to the dressing room after a hit from Andy Greene. Hunched over as he skated off the ice straight to the tunnel, Stamkos didn't even bother to grab his stick.
Stamkos, however, returned to the ice at the start of the third period and played the rest of the game.
"He took a little cross-check to the arm there," Cooper said after the game. "It got him between the pads."
Stralman to visit doctor Tuesday
It is still unclear as to how soon defenseman Anton Stralman will return to the Lightning's lineup.
Stralman, who has missed the past eight games with an upper-body injury, will see a doctor on Tuesday to undergo further evaluation.
"Hopefully when we get some news on that, this could be one of those where he gets right back in the lineup," Cooper said Sunday. "We just have to wait and see."