Quick Note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases, “and,” “but,” “so,” “you know,” and “I mean.”
Steven Stamkos: Everything’s gone according to plan. Like I said, you just want it to keep progressing every day, feeling more comfortable and confident on the ice. Today was probably the best day yet.
I’m feeling better than the last time we talked and really feeling better each day now. It’s just a matter of time, of just feeling totally comfortable and confident out there.
Question: How much are you really itching to get back?
Stamkos: Well, I think you know me well enough that I want to be out there at all times and be a difference maker. It’s tough at this time of the year not to be involved, but the guys have played great as of late.
Just being around a lot more in the last couple weeks and competing in practice, it gives you the itch for sure. I want to get back as soon as possible, but nothing changes in regards to me needing to feel the way I want in order to play my game out there. It’s been progressing really well. I’m really excited about the way it’s going.
Question: You’re not there yet as far as feeling completely confident with where you’re [at]?
Stamkos: No, I mean - it’s as close as I’ve been. I’m not going to put any dates on anything. I’m just very pleased and excited with how it’s feeling.
Sitting here today, three weeks ago maybe not thinking it’d feel this good. I’m very optimistic about being able to get to where I need to be, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Question: Can you rule tomorrow out?
Stamkos: I think so, yeah - unless something drastically changes. For me, that was a really good skate today. To just be on a [forward] line, not so much for a line’s sake, but to be involved in every single play in practice.
I think that was kind of the goal that Coop [head coach Jon Cooper] and I had talked about. Getting some reps on the power play, just to feel that process out. So when it does hopefully come a time where I get to be in the game, at least you have some touches. That was nice to see today.
Question: Do the standings have any impact on the decision at all?
Stamkos: I gotta stick with what I said before. It’s really - we’re obviously being smart with this. Having gone through a couple things, you know when you’re ready. Obviously the competitive nature that I have, I want be out there regardless but I’m a realist.
Like I said before, you don’t want to be a liability, especially at this time of the year. If you’re going in, you’re going in to be the player that I know I can be to help this team win, not just to get out there for the sake of saying I got out there and maybe not giving my teammates the best chance to win after everything they’ve done to stay in the race.
I want to be out there as badly as anyone, but I want to make sure first and foremost that the injury is a non-factor and secondly that I can go out there and be a difference on the ice. I know as a leader, I want to be around this group which has helped lately, but I also want to make sure that I’m 100% okay to go.
Question: Is it [inaudible] to say that in some ways, them seeing you out there might say, you know, give them a little extra jump? And for you, have they inspired you?
Stamkos: Oh, for sure they’ve inspired me. I can’t speak for them, but I can speak for myself. It’s definitely motivated you on some of those days where you get up and it doesn’t feel great or you don’t want to necessarily go in and do your rehab because it’s tough.
When you see the guys and how they’ve responded to the injuries throughout the whole year. The way the trade deadline went. The way everyone counted us out, including probably a lot of you guys. [reporters laugh]
There’s times where doubt starts to creep in with this group, but you see the fresh faces that have come in. You see the young guys that have come in. They’ve been a boost of energy, just from having them there. They’ve inspired me that way too.
Then you see the guys that have been here for a while - Kuch [Nikita Kucherov] and Heddy [Victor Hedman] and Strals [Anton Stralman] and Pointer [Brayden Point] and Pally [Ondrej Palat] and those guys, the way they’ve gone out and just kept this season alive has been very inspiring and helped all of us guys that have been injured to push a little harder to hopefully get a chance to come back and see everyone accomplish our goal in making the playoffs.
Question: I know you’re a big fan of the game. What was it like being a fan on Monday night, the way that game went? [The Lightning rallied from a 4-1 deficit to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime]
Stamkos: Yeah, those are the games you want to be part of. From a fan’s perspective, I heard some people say that was one of the best hockey games they’ve seen in a long time. You get way more nervous when you’re not playing, that’s for sure. It was exciting to see us come back.
The joke after was, “Never a doubt” after 4-1. [reporters laugh] For the injured guys anyways, we knew we were going to win. That was kind of the ongoing joke. It just again shows the resiliency of this team that no matter where we are, we’re going to give it our all. You just hope at the end of the year that it’s enough.
Question: Is part of that a culture thing too? Teams establish that over a couple of years where like - that doesn’t just go away no matter who’s injured or who’s in or who’s out.
Stamkos: Yeah, it goes both ways. I think when you’re with a bunch of guys for a long time, the comfort level is there and you know what you’re capable of doing. At the same time, sometimes you need those fresh faces to just throw in some energy once in a while.
It’s not that it gets stale, but when guys get hurt and you get those fresh guys come up, going 100 miles an hour - like I said, it’s inspiring. It gets guys going, “Okay, well if I want to continue to be playing on this line, this guy’s coming.” It’s just healthy competition. Those guys have done a great job, I think.
Even bringing a guy like Peter Budaj for Vasy [Andrei Vasilevskiy]. Words can’t express how much I think he’s helped him in this situation. Things like that, you might not necessarily see the up-side to it at the time of the move, but this group has come together. Like I said, you just hope that everything we’ve done through this stretch can be enough at the end of the year.