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91 Days of Stamkos: Day 73, Injury Update - Getting Closer

Stamkos is nearing the “end of the tunnel.”

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Stamkos has now hit the four-month mark from when he had surgery on his right knee following an injury suffered in a November game against the Detroit Red Wings. The time frame is significant because it represented the quickest point at which he could return to the ice for the Lightning. Although he is skating, his return to game action does not appear to be imminent.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith published an update on his recovery on Tuesday, in which the Coach Cooper cautioned against hoping for any immediate change to his star center’s status. While he again refused to put a date on Stamkos’ return to the lineup he did state, “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” inferring that Stamkos is getting closer to being available.

As he has been since the injury occurred, Stamkos traveled with the team on their brief two-game road trip, and has been seen skating with the team before games. While the videos posted online have shown the all-star skating at full speed, he still hasn’t participated in any full team practices or gone through any motions that require contact. Those two exercises are the next big steps on his rehabilitation schedule.

Red hot winger Nikita Kucherov said that he has “hope that he’s [Stamkos is] coming back.” The Rangers’ broadcast noted that Stamkos has been seen on the ice working with Kucherov on the Russian’s one-timer. The results speak for themself, because Kucherov has been on a scoring rampage during the Lightning’s recent winning streak.

While Stamkos hasn’t contributed any points to the team’s recent success, his presence and advice has been welcomed by the players. The one-time teenage phenom is now the grizzled veteran who has been through playoff-chases in the past. Now 27 years old, second only to Ryan Callahan at 30 as oldest forward on the team, Stamkos can provide the knowledge that comes with having been through the fire several times before to a front-line crew that has five players that are 23 or younger.

Fellow old-timer Victor Hedman described Stamkos’ being with the team as “awesome”. He told ESPN, “He’s the leader of this team...he’s so good in the locker room and around the guys. He always brings a positive attitude.”

That leadership off the ice has been the most impressive development, growing from an 18-year-old scoring sensation to captain of a team that has made deep runs into the last two playoffs.

Cooper and General Manager Steve Yzerman are not going to rush their highest-paid player back into the lineup before he is ready, well before the doctors say he’s ready, just because they need him. Even after the Massacre Up the Middle that the Lightning suffered a week ago when three of their centers were injured, Cooper stressed, “Until doctors and Steven Stamkos says ‘I’m ready to go,’ he’s not getting on that ice.”

With only 13 games to go in the season, the window is closing for Stamkos to have an impact on the regular season. If the Lightning manage to pull off the improbable and make it to the playoffs, then a different story can be written. Not only for Stamkos, but for the Lightning as a contender in the Eastern Conference.