On Sunday, Coach Jon Cooper put to bed any lingering hope Tampa Bay Lightning fans might have had in seeing their captain return to the ice for Game Six or a possible Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final.
“The conversation was this morning because there’s only one or two games left in the series,” Cooper said. “He did everything he could to get back, and he did get back and unfortunately he couldn’t go any further. I’m sure this will all be addressed after the series is over.”
Stamkos’ 2020 playoff resume consists of 2:47 of ice-time, five shifts, and one super uplifting moment. His goal in Game Three provided Lightning fans with a moment that they won’t soon forget (and gave his team an important two-goal lead at the time). While, he won’t be there on the ice for the remainder of the series, he’ll be with the team supporting them every step of the way.
It appears that whatever setback he suffered following his core surgery from earlier this year was too much for him to overcome and take the ice on a consistent basis. While it’s not the news the team wanted to hear, it at least gives them some certainty heading into Game Six on Monday.
Stamkos underwent the procedure on March 2nd and there was an estimated recovery time of six to eight weeks. At the time it looked like his participation in the playoffs wouldn’t start until the middle rounds. The Pause delayed things and it appeared that he might be able to join the team right out of the gate for the restart of the season.
The team proceeded cautiously, and he spent much of those first weeks working out by himself. They were hopeful he would be ready for game action for the round robin portion in Toronto, but his return was delayed indefinitely upon their arrival to the hub city.
From there it became a mystery. Due to the reclusive nature of the bubble it was uncertain if he was working out or skating with the team. As the games went by there was no word about his possible return other than it was “indefinite”. During the Eastern Conference Finals, General Manager Julien BriseBois gave some hope to Lightning fans when he wouldn’t rule out Stamkos’ return at some point.
Footage started to appear from practices of Stamkos skating. Talk circulated that he was near a return. Then, in Game Three, he surprised many by taking to the ice in warm-ups and then coming out with the rest of the team as part of the game-day line-up. He skated on the fourth line with Patrick Maroon and Cedric Paquette, scoring his lone goal just over six minutes into the period on a vintage Stamkos move down the right-hand side of the ice.
Following the game, Stamkos spoke with the media and indicated he would explain what has been going on once the series is over. The captain did not want to distract from the team’s mission of raising a Stanley Cup.
It is not the way anyone wanted his season to end. Until now there was still the hope, however, fading that he would be on the ice as time wound down on a Lightning victory. While he won’t be playing, you can bet that, should the Lightning pull off the victory, he will be on the ice the moment the horn sounds and be one of the first to lift the Cup over his head.