The Lightning probably will start round-robin play without Steven Stamkos. They take on the Capitals on Monday in Toronto in the first of three games for playoff seeding, and Stamkos did not practice the past two days.
“We never really, in any of our plans, had him playing in this first game, so I’m not sure any of that has really changed,” Jon Cooper said Sunday.
Stamkos is recovering from a leg injury suffered during voluntary workouts before training camp began last month.
A week ago today, Stamkos said he had a good chance to “hopefully play in a couple of games of the round robin.” He has not spoken with reporters since.
Cooper, asked if he still hoped Stamkos would be ready for the start of the playoffs’ first round next week, said, “Yeah, we’re always hopeful.”
From the start of training camp, when Stamkos skated by himself between sessions, Cooper said the goal was to have Stamkos back for the start of the playoffs more so than the exhibition and round-robin games. He hadn’t said publicly that he didn’t expect Stamkos to play in the first game of the round robin.
Stamkos seemed to be making progress when he fully participated in practice last Monday, Tuesday and Friday, though he didn’t play in Wednesday’s exhibition win over the Panthers. Last Monday, he said that was the best he had felt since having core muscle surgery in March.
It is unclear if Stamkos has had an opportunity to skate outside of the team’s practice sessions. Twelve teams are practicing on four rinks in Toronto.
It doesn’t seem likely he would be available to play against the Bruins on Wednesday, either, if he hasn’t skated since Friday.
The Lightning’s final round-robin game is Saturday against the Flyers. The first round of the playoffs begins the following Tuesday; the schedules have not been released.
Stamkos last week described his leg injury as “part of the ebbs and flows of going through rehab” from his March 2 surgery.
“I don’t know if I would call it a new injury,” he said. “Anytime you have a surgery, there are going to be things that are certainly connected to one another.”
He described feeling “really good” for a few weeks when he was skating during the league shutdown, when injured players were allowed to rehabilitate at team facilities, but emphasized that there was no contact or any game-like situations. Stamkos said he hit a rut after that.
Going into the start of training camp, general manager Julien BriseBois referred to Stamkos’ latest setback as a leg injury, saying Stamkos had recovered from surgery, then incurred another issue. Stamkos said they’re “definitely connected.”
When Stamkos had surgery, Dr. Ryan Lingor, a Rangers team physician and primary sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, told the Tampa Bay Times that recovery comes with a high risk of encountering issues during rehabilitation.
“You could either have an issue with the repair itself,” Lingor said, “or you can compensate and cause an issue to a different body part because everything is trying to make up for that vulnerable spot.”
Stamkos’ original recovery time line from the surgery was six to eight weeks, which in a normal season would have put his return likely in the second round of the playoffs. The league shut down 10 days after his surgery because of the coronavirus and resumed play Saturday.
Stamkos now has a chance to start the postseason.
“Obviously, you never want to see what’s gone on in the world,” Stamkos said about the pandemic. “From a hockey perspective, it gave me a chance to get as healthy as possible and be ready for Game 1.”