Stamkos, Kucherov set for Lightning playoff return
TAMPA – Steven stamkos says he expects to be ready to come back, with Nikita Kucherov, when the Tampa Bay Lightning opens the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Lightning captain Stamkos has been out since April 8 with a lower body injury. Kucherov has not played this season after having hip surgery in the offseason. Neither forward is expected to play the last two games of the Tampa Bay regular season.
“The goal has always been to be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs, and everything has moved in that direction, so it’s exciting,” Stamkos said on Friday. “I feel a lot better. I’m definitely in a better place than a few weeks ago.”
Stamkos has been a full participant in practice and morning skates this week in preparation for the playoffs. He has 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 38 games and leads the Lightning with 10 power play goals.
Kucherov has been skating with Tampa Bay for about two months, but has been more active with the line throws recently and is working on his first power play unit. He scored 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists) in 68 games last season and 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 25 playoff games to help Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup.
“’Kuch’ and I are very close,” Stamkos said, “and whenever you can have a rehab buddy it makes things a lot easier, just from a mental point of view too, you have someone. one to bounce backstage. you always work together, whether before training or before [the media] see us, we are working hard. During matches, we are either in the gym or under treatment.
“I think we’re just thrilled to have the chance to get back on the ice in a playing situation. We haven’t had the chance to play together on the ice for long enough, so we’re excited about it. “
The Lightning (36-15-3) will face the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. They are tied for second in the Discover Central Division and face off Saturday and Monday to end the regular season.
A start date for the playoffs has not been announced.
“[From] our part is to make sure they’re in good shape, that they’re physically ready to go and that they know exactly what our game plan is, ”said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. , about Stamkos and Kucherov. have to ask them. “
Stamkos was limited to a playoff game and 2:47 of ice time last season. He scored a first-period goal in a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Cup Final.
Cooper said on April 17 that Stamkos’ injury was unrelated to an abdominal muscle injury he sustained last season. Stamkos missed the games on February 11 and 13 with a lower body injury.
If Stamkos doesn’t play before the playoffs, he will have missed 100 regular season games and 38 playoff games in the past five seasons.
“Every time you get injured it’s not fun, and unfortunately for me I’ve had to deal with a lot of things lately and it can get very frustrating,” said the 31-year-old. “There’s no one who wants to be there more than me. The first few days after something like that you’re down on yourself and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then you start to get up and move and rehabilitate yourself and definitely feel a lot better, so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. “