Steven Stamkos may hit the ice as soon as Saturday night.
On November 17th Tampa Bay Lightning centre Steven Stamkos had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for a lateral meniscus tear. He was given a 4-6 month time-frame for his return and it looks as if he will be healthy, just in time to help his team make a run for the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference.
He practiced on Wednesday on a line with Yanni Gourde and Adam Erne and participated in every single drill including a spot on the second powerplay unit. His status is now day-to-day. While Tampa Bay has the league’s fourth best powerplay at 23.1%, adding the sharpshooter would surely improve it. 205 of Stamkos’ 582 career points have come on the man advantage.
Steven Stamkos Return Changes Playoff Race
The Lightning are halfway through a four-game home-stand. They sit just three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild card in the East, with one game in-hand. Boston holds the tiebreaker as they have five more wins in either regulation or overtime this season. Winners of seven of their last ten games and currently riding a four-game win streak, Stamkos return could be the edge that Tampa needs to earn a spot in the post season for the fourth straight year.
The Bolts play six out of their final seven games against Atlantic division teams. Tampa has a good opportunity to climb into the wildcard if they can stay consistent. They own a 16-6-3 record against Atlantic division opponents so far this season. Two of those six games, including Saturday’s, are against the Montreal Canadiens.
Tampa won the most recent game against Montreal 4-3 and the season series is split at one game a piece. When you are trying to get the puck past one of the best goalies on the planet, it’s never an easy task. The Habs and Bolts are tied with 211 goals for this season. Montreal beat Tampa twice in the last ten games of last year’s season by a combined score of 8-2. The Canadiens are playing well, 6-3-1 in their last 10. Montreal is fighting to maintain the Atlantic division lead. They sit six points ahead of the Ottawa Senators.
Stamkos Fills Lightning Need for Depth Down the Middle
Stamkos knee issue is just one of many injuries that have plagued the Lightning over the course of the season. They are still without another of their top centres, Tyler Johnson. Other notable forwards with injuries are Ryan Callahan, and Cedric Paquette. Johnson has missed the last ten games. He suffered the injury after a knee-on-knee collision with the Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter on March 9th.
Tampa currently dresses two young centre that are having trouble producing; 24-year-old Greg McKegg and 25-year-old Yanni Gourde. McKegg has just seven points in 40 games this season, Gourde’s recorded three points in 13 games with the club. The team’s other two centre; Alex Killorn and Vadislav Namestnikov have seen slight drop-offs in their point per game production this year.
Stamkos has an insane 0.99 points in his career. His return will add much-needed scoring depth to the Lightning down the middle. Tampa Bay sits 14th in the league with 211 goals scored. Stamkos won 53% of his faceoffs in 17 games this season before his injury, another area that the Bolts centres have struggled with throughout the season, sitting 23rd with just 48.3%.
If Tampa Bay’s top centre returns at full health their chances at their fourth straight playoff birth with significantly improve.