Steven Stamkos didn't skate with his team during their morning practice, but he's ahead of schedule. His invitation to play in the Olympics isn't a ceremonial gesture. It's looking like Stamkos will play next month and his return to action could first come with the Lightning.
"Steven will be the first one to tell you. He's not going to play in the Olympics unless he's ready to go," said Jon Cooper. "If he can play a game for the Tampa Bay Lightning before he goes, naturally he's going to be ready. I don't think it's going to be a situation where he's just holding out to play in the Olympics. He won't do that.
"The Olympics is right around the time that he's going to be close to be ready or maybe if not ready. So if he's 100-percent ready I'd love for him to play in the Olympics."
The team has no concern about risk of re-injury. His leg has a titanium rod for support. The Lightning views the Olympics has a benefit, a tune-up that will get Stamkos ready for a playoff run. He's teammates can't wait for his return.
"I think he's been skating already a lot and feeling better," said Valtteri Filppula. "Hopefully he can play, mostly because we want him here. Not so much [to] face him in the Olympics, though."
When Stamkos broke his leg in November, it could have ended the Lightning's playoff chances. At the time, players stood up and professed they could still without number 91, but they admit now they really needed to see it, they have. The Lightning have gone 14-8-4 without him. They've slipped from first in the Eastern Conference to third.
"I think everyone had their doubts from the first second," said Anders Lindback. "We came together pretty fast. We have a bunch of world class [players] playing on this team. I just found that other guys stepped up in the parts that were missing."
It took just a couple games to cement the Lightning's conviction.
"When we won a few games, it makes you think you could win more than a couple," said Filppula.
Knowing what Stamkos means to the Lightning's chances to win the Stanley Cup, will his coach be watching and worrying if he's on the ice in Russia?
"We'll just have to see where he's at," said Cooper. "Is it a concern to me? No. They can keep him [on the roster] right until 24 hours before the first game before he can be replaced. So I'm not worried. I'm really happy for him."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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