Lightning's Steven Stamkos skates with team, not close to return to lineup

EDMONTON -- Steven Stamkos remains inside the NHL bubble and is trying to work his way back from injury, but isn’t close to returning to the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup, according to head coach Jon Cooper.

Stamkos hasn’t played a game since undergoing core muscle surgery on March 2. That came with a six- to eight-week recovery period, which passed during the NHL’s COVID-19 pause.

The Lightning captain then suffered a lower-body injury during Phase 2 workouts in June, but was a full participant in practices after the Lightning entered the Toronto bubble in late July.

However, Stamkos hasn’t played a game during Tampa’s run to the Eastern Conference Final and updates on his condition have been few and far between. The fact he’s been skating, which Cooper revealed Monday, even counts as new information.

“When you’re not able to play, you’ve got to shine in other areas, and he’s definitely helping in the leadership department,” said Cooper. “He’s been skating on and off, he’s on a rehab regime. And so a lot of days he’s either skating by himself or, if we’ve got optionals or we have a few guys skating, [he’ll join them].

“I think today he’s out there with the guys, but there’s certain things he can and can’t do. It’s great to have him around, but definitely nothing’s changed in the playing department any time soon.”

Stamkos looked loose and relaxed during the clips from Monday's practice shared on the NHL media site. He skated with intention, worked on one-timers and appeared to be a full participant in the skate.

The fact the Lightning are one win away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final while playing without Stamkos speaks to their depth. He was second on the team with 29 goals and 66 points during the regular season.

Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final goes Tuesday. Tampa holds a 3-1 lead in the series.

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