Stamkos switches to medication that could speed up return

NHL insider Chris Johnston breaks down the Penguins-Lightning series, whether we’ll see Steven Stamkos make an appearance, and why Phil Kessel is really in his comfort zone in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH – Steven Stamkos is now taking an injectable form of blood-thinning medication that could expedite his return to game action.

The Tampa Bay Lightning captain skated in a normal practice sweater at Consol Energy Center on Sunday afternoon and said afterwards that he had started experimenting with a medication that he could continue to take while playing.

While he’s not expected to suit up for Game 2 against Pittsburgh on Monday night, these appear to be positive steps toward an eventual return.

Stamkos had surgery for a blood clot near his right collarbone area on April 4 and has remained on blood thinners ever since. It had originally been thought he need to be completely clear of those in order to play, but the Lightning are working on another solution.

“There’s different ways around it when it comes to that,” Stamkos told Sportsnet and the Toronto Sun on Sunday. “There’s different options that we’ve explored. There’s injectable blood-thinning medication that I’m on right now.

“There have been guys that have played in this league who are on it.”

One of them is defenceman Kimmo Timonen, who developed a routine with the injectable medication when he made his return to the Philadelphia Flyers last season. His case has provided a small source of optimism while Stamkos waits for full medical clearance.

“There’s an article I was reading the other day about Timonen and (Tomas) Fleischmann – last year Timo (did it) before he got traded,” said Stamkos. “He was on the same regiment where he would inject after a game and then hold off, play, and then do that. There’s different stages. We’re obviously working through all of that stuff, looking at different options.

“I think for me too even just being able to read articles like that and know guys have done that puts your mind at ease a little bit.”

It’s abundantly clear that Stamkos has done his homework. In conversation he casually drops the names of every NHLer who has recently dealt with blood clots – Timonen, Fleischmann, Pascal Dupuis, Tomas Vokoun, teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy – and can explain the difference between each of their issues.

While he acknowledges feeling a little scared after getting his original diagnosis, the 26-year-old is much more at ease after learning about it.

Stamkos believes he’s currently in the best shape of his life and put in a punishing workout on Sunday – taking part in a 45-minute practice before spending an extra hour out there afterwards.

“You want to make the easiest part of all this the games,” said Stamkos. “It’s tough skating out there, it’s tiring, but when you get to game time and you get a chance to sit on the bench in between shifts and catch your breath, it should be easier.

“Hopefully that’s the case.”

Truth be told, he feels plenty good enough to play now.

But the recovery he’s going through is totally different than what he experienced two years ago when he broke his leg, for example. This isn’t about pain or comfort. It’s really about something he can’t see or feel.

“I think that’s probably what’s a little bit frustrating for him, because he’s got to wait for other people to tell him he can play,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “He’s not the one making the decision. I think that’s what’s really tough as opposed to what happens to other players when they’re injured.”

While there is still plenty of grey with the Stamkos situation, there also seems to be a small glimmer of hope.

At the beginning of the playoffs he didn’t even travel with the Lightning for road games in Detroit. Then in Round 2 he rejoined practice in a red non-contact sweater. Now he’s a full participant and taking a medication that he’ll likely remain on when he does make his return.

On Sunday, he acknowledged that he pushed himself pretty hard.

“A couple bumps out there, a couple times where you’re hesitant to go into traffic,” said Stamkos. “Really I’ve been comfortable out there for awhile now. Once you get this stuff rehabbed and the scar tissue out of there from the surgical site, you pretty much feel back to normal with the exception of a little tightness some days.

“That’s the frustrating thing because you feel capable of playing but you’ve just got to play the waiting game.”

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