TAMPA — Steven Stamkos’ injury status remained uncertain Friday, a day after he skated off the ice in obvious pain during Thursday’s game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
But in the short term, he appears unlikely to play in the Lightning’s next game Saturday in Nashville.
Stamkos did not participate in Tampa Bay’s full practice on Friday afternoon in Nashville. During his post-practice media availability, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said only that Stamkos was being evaluated.
“I will hopefully have something (Saturday),” Cooper said. “I would sit here and say he is questionable for tomorrow’s game though.”
Asked whether he believed Stamkos’ injury is connected to the core muscle issues that sidelined him for the end of last season and most of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run, Cooper said it was too early to speculate.
“I’m the hockey coach, not the doctor,” he said.
Stamkos skated off the ice in the third period of Thursday’s 6-4 win over Columbus and didn’t return. Before departing, he reached out to corral a puck, spun toward the boards and backhanded the puck up ice. He then hunched over in clear discomfort and leaned back against the board for a few seconds before slowly skating off.
There was no contact on the play.
Stamkos, 31, has been one of the Lightning’s most durable players this season. He has played in 38 of their 40 regular-season games, missing two in mid-February while in COVID-19 protocol due to what was later determined to be a false-positive test. Stamkos’ 18:16 average ice time this season is tied for second-most among Lightning forwards.
Last season, Stamkos had a first core muscle surgery in March, missing the final seven regular-season games before the season was paused due to the pandemic. Stamkos played in just one postseason game, seven months after his last regular-season game, and delivered a critical goal in just 2:47 of ice time during Tampa Bay’s Game 3 win over Dallas in the Stanley Cup final.
Stamkos had a second surgery in October and was a full participant when the Lightning opened training camp on Jan. 3.
The Lightning have played well this season without last season’s top scorer, Nikita Kucherov, and Stamkos’ return helped compensate for Kucherov’s absence. But with Kucherov on long-term injury reserve and not slated to return from hip surgery until the postseason, the Lightning could be without two of their top players down the stretch.
Entering Saturday’s game in Nashville, Stamkos leads the Lightning with 17 goals. He ended a seven-game goal drought Thursday with a first-period power play goal. His 10 power-play goals also lead the team and have opened up other opportunities for first team power-play teammates Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard
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