BRANDON — There were moments Wednesday when defenseman Anton Stralman skated alongside usual partner Victor Hedman in drills.
Wing J.T. Brown joined the fourth line in rushes with Vladislav Namestnikov and Erik Condra at the Ice Sports Forum.
It seemed like old times.
Not so fast, coach Jon Cooper said. Though Stralman (fractured left leg) and Brown (upper body) participated in their first full team practice since they were injured, Cooper said that didn't necessarily mean both would be available Friday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
"I will just set the record straight now. All injured players are indefinite," Cooper said. "Don't read anything into the (color of the practice) jerseys (denoting status). Don't read anything into anything until you see them at the game. It's unfair to the players. When they're in, we'll let you know when they're going to be in.
"No use in putting time lines on guys. They usually turn out to be wrong anyway. It's all speculation."
Whether that was crafty gamesmanship by Cooper or realistic tempering of expectations remains to be seen. But that Stralman and Brown were fully participating in a team skate was encouraging.
Stralman, out seven weeks, had been skating on his own and in optional morning skates. But he still appears to be a little ways away from coming back. He said he hasn't done many contact drills, which are likely required before playing, especially after missing nearly two months.
"(The leg is) not perfect. Otherwise I'd be playing," Stralman said. "Sure, there's obviously limitations, but hopefully we're just going to keep progressing and I'll be ready when I'm ready."
It has been a challenge for Stralman to keep up his conditioning with his leg limited. He has relied on upper-body cardio exercises such as an arm bike. Even after skating the past few weeks, Stralman, who averaged 22 minutes per game, said "I was kind of sucking air" on a few drill Wednesday.
"Other than that," he said, "I thought it was okay."
Stralman said another hurdle may be mental, not thinking about the recently healed leg.
"You obviously want to feel comfortable, don't want to overthink things," Stralman said. "When you go on the ice, you want to step on the ice just focusing on the game, not some other stuff. You want to feel good out there."
Brown, out since suffering what was believed to be a wrist or hand injury in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Red Wings, began to practice with a full stick last week. He appears closer to returning than Stralman, seeming encouraged about how he has progressed and hoping to return during the conference final.
"It's getting there," Brown said. "At the end of the day, I'm doing a lot of things I'd normally do in practice without any limitations. Just trying to make strides."
Then there's the million dollar question of when captain Steven Stamkos comes back. Stamkos (blood clot) continued to skate with the team in a red noncontact jersey, and he increased his participation in drills.
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"Everything but guys laying me out," Stamkos said, smiling.
Stamkos is limited while he takes blood thinners. No appointment is scheduled with doctors to decide when he can come off the medication, he said. He said communicates daily with the trainers, a hematologist and the surgeon who operated on the clot.
"I feel like I can play," Stamkos said. "It's just (getting the) word now."
When asked about Stamkos' availability in this series, general manager Steve Yzerman said he wasn't going to rule anything out. "But I can't give you a 'yes' or a 'no,' " he said.
Yzerman said the Lightning would wait and see how Stralman and Brown felt today when it practices at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh and Friday at the morning skate.
"It's one day at a time with those guys," Yzerman said. "But (Wednesday) was progress, for sure."
Said Stralman: "(Wednesday) was a good day."