PITTSBURGH — For weeks, captain Steven Stamkos has been in a "holding pattern," feeling good enough to play but not knowing if he'd get the chance.
But it sounds like there could be a decision soon, potentially this week.
The key seems to be whether Stamkos will have to remain on the blood thinner medication, Lovenox, which he has injected twice a day since having surgery April 4 to repair a blood clot in his collarbone area. Stamkos could be given a different regimen that would let him play.
Stamkos made it clear he won't risk his long-term health even if it means chasing the Stanley Cup, and he, with family members and doctors, will evaluate test results and collaborate to make the call.
"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," Stamkos said. "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.
"We could come to a conclusion after all of our research that it's just not safe enough to play at all in these playoffs. That's the reality that I'm living with."
Stamkos has kept pushing himself since rejoining practices April 26 and shed the red non-contact jersey in practices this week. He might be in the best shape he has been in all season. But Stamkos reiterates it's "safety first, health first."
"I know as an athlete, you're willing to do whatever it takes," he said. "Trust me, I've tried. But that's the toughest part, for sure, to try to walk that line."
Stamkos said they've explored the possibility of altering his regimen of blood thinner medication, reassured to know some NHL players, like Kimmo Timonen, have done and successfully returned to the ice.
"Those guys who have played have done an injection, skipped a dose, played and they're ultimately as safe as anyone in this room," Stamkos said.
Stamkos' blood clot — thoracic outlet syndrome — is a different condition than Timonen had but the same one backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had in September. Vasilevskiy was out for seven weeks. Dr. Karl Illig, Stamkos' surgeon, said a player on Lovenox can resume playing 8-10 hours after getting off it.
The key question is, how does a doctor know when Stamkos is ready to get off blood thinners? Illig, speaking generally, said it's pretty subjective. Illig said some of it involves the clot burden, status of vessels and the patient's psychology. Everyone reacts differently.
Even when the blood thinner decision is made, Stamkos admits he'll have to participate in a couple of practices and get "bumped" before returning.
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Lining up: G Andrei Vasilevskiy started in net for Ben Bishop (left leg), who did not participate in the morning skate, instead doing an off-ice workout. D Anton Stralman (fractured left leg) returned to the lineup and scored a goal in his first game since March 25. RW Ryan Callahan was scratched; coach Jon Cooper said he had the flu "really bad" and hoped Callahan could return for Game 3. RW Jonathan Marchessault and D Slater Koekkoek played, with D Nikita Nesterov and RW Erik Condra scratched.