The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the post-season, defeated the Detroit Red Wings, got past the New York Islanders and entered into the Eastern Conference final all without the services of Steven Stamkos, and the Bolts may have to get used to his absence for the rest of the post-season.
Stamkos has been out for nearly two months after he had surgery to take care of a blood clot in his arm, but the Lightning captain has been taking part in some light skates, practicing with his teammates and has looked close to returning on several occasions. But ahead of Game 4, which will be as close to a must-win as the Lightning can get without it being an elimination game, Stamkos said the likelihood of him playing Friday evening isn’t very great. In fact, he said there’s about a “95 percent chance” he’ll be out.
As if that news isn’t bad enough, though, Stamkos went one step further: he said he might not be back at all this post-season.
“I'm hoping to (come back this round), but there's still a real possibility that I may not play at all in the playoffs,” Stamkos said. “It’s tough when you have two different parts of the spectrum. It's either you're going to be able to play or it's just not safe to play. So we still haven't come to that decision yet. That's going to take a lot of information gathering and a lot of different opinions, and obviously, I don't know when that decision is going to be made for sure to either rule in or rule out.”
Given that he’s been off and on in practicing with teammates, Stamkos saying he might not be able to play at all shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. That doesn’t make it any less of a gut-punch for a Lightning team that could sorely use the one-time 60-goal scorer right about now.
Though the Lightning have had a formidable run up until the Eastern Conference final, they’ve looked a step behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past two games of the third round. In those games, the Penguins have outshot the Lightning 89-49 and outscored them 7-4. One of the biggest differences between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay has been the Penguins’ scoring depth. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have all played on different lines, and that’s the type of depth the Lightning could potentially boast, too, were Stamkos healthy enough to return.
Making matters difficult is that an ailment of Stamkos’ time doesn’t have a definite timeline for return. Originally he was slated to be out anywhere from 1-3 months. He was back on the ice on the early side of that timeline, but he has yet to get the medical clearance that makes him a sure thing to return.
It was widely reported that Stamkos has been taking injectable blood thinner medications, something other players, such as longtime Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, have done in order to return to action. Unfortunately, that doesn’t ensure a speedier recovery.
“There's no data out there to support whether coming back earlier than the initial prognosis is safe or not, if there's elevated risks or not,” Stamkos said. “It’s such a unique situation, and obviously not a common thing, that there's really no clinical studies to suggest. So there's risk management. You have to do your best to gather as many opinions, gather as much information as possible so you're well educated on the risks if you do come back, realizing that it's not worth the risk. So we haven't reached that stage yet.”