Steven Stamkos is “inching his way closer” to playing, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Sunday, but he didn’t seem to think much of the odds of Stamkos playing tonight against the Stars in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at Edmonton.
“I guess there’s always a chance,” Cooper said. “But as of now, I don’t think so. But that’s why you have to tune in to find out.”
Stamkos hasn’t played since Feb. 25. He had core muscle surgery March 2 and has had two setbacks since. He has been skating with the Lightning in the playoff bubbles, but they haven’t had full practices.
Cooper on Sunday reiterated what general manager Julien BriseBois said Friday, expressing hope that Stamkos makes it back before the end of the series. But the Lightning aren’t going to push him.
As the power play has struggled, going 1-for-19 over the past seven games, some fans have asked if Stamkos could return only to play on that unit.
“You have to make sure the player is conditioned enough,” Cooper said.
“There’s no way you would put a player into a game, when you have limited roster spots, just to play a specialized position, not at this time of the year.”
With a whole team dealing with “bumps and bruises" — center Brayden Point missed two games last round, while his wingers, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, have been checked out by athletic trainers the last few games — a team wouldn’t want to give up a spot in the lineup for someone to only play a few minutes. Cooper added that Stamkos wouldn’t want that either; he’d want to be able to truly contribute.
Stars coach Rick Bowness, who knows Stamkos well from his five years as a Lightning assistant, is expecting Stamkos to make a return at some point.
“He’s a great player,” Bowness said. “He changes the whole look on the power play. So that’s a big factor. We take three penalties like we did one period last night, they’re going to do some damage with Steven out there and his ability to one-time the puck.”