BOSTON — Turns out, captain Steven Stamkos' return wasn't as imminent as initially thought.
When coach Jon Cooper said late last week Stamkos, 27, reached "day-to-day" status and was "pretty close," many expected the superstar center might return in the weekend's back-to-back home games.
But Stamkos remained sidelined Tuesday for the Lightning's biggest game of the season, a showdown at the Bruins. And Cooper declined to speculate whether Stamkos will play on this three-game road trip, which continues Thursday in Stamkos' hometown of Toronto.
Stamkos maintained he didn't suffer a setback in his recovery from mid-November knee surgery. He said he's status quo, that when he's 100 percent, he'll be back.
"'Day to day?' I could be day to day for three months, really," Stamkos said. "That's what got the ball rolling a little bit (on his expected return). When I'm ready, and I feel I can help my team, I'll be back."
With only three games left in the regular season, and the Lightning still outside of a playoff spot, you wonder if it is even worth it for Stamkos to risk returning after being out so long? Stamkos' answer was telling.
"The only time it wouldn't be worth it is if we're out of the mix," Stamkos said. "As long as we're still in the mix, I'd consider it worth it."
Stamkos badly wants to play. But he's said several times he doesn't want to be a "liability" to his teammates, especially with every shift being critical in the Lightning's playoff fight. Stamkos will only come back when he's comfortable and confident he'll be the player he's used to. And you saw how Tyler Johnson was limited Sunday after missing just 11 games with a lower body injury. Jason Garrison re-aggravated his lower-body injury Sunday after being out four games. Stamkos has missed 62.
And Stamkos might have played his last game this season. Depending on how the Lightning does in the next couple games, it wouldn't be surprising if Stamkos is shut down if the team is eliminated from the playoffs.
Quote of the day
"It's a tough situation. I'll be Switzerland on this one."
Coach Jon Cooper, taking the neutral side on NHL decision to not participate in 2018 Olympics.
D Jason Garrison, who re-aggravated his lower body injury in the second period Sunday, did not play Tuesday, but is on the trip. RW J.T. Brown, limited to five minutes Sunday, also didn't play due to an undisclosed injury. Cooper didn't have an update on how long they'd be out. With Garrison and Brown scratched, LW Joel Vermin and C Gregg McKegg returned to the lineup against the Bruins.
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. Forward Gabriel Dumont left the team Tuesday to be with his wife, who is expecting their second child, a boy.
. Goalie prospect Connor Ingram signed a three-year entry level deal and joined AHL Syracuse. GM Steve Yzerman has said Ingram will share the net in Syracuse next season with a veteran.
. Programming note: Thursday's game at Toronto will be televised on Fox Sports Florida, not Fox Sports Sun.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.