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Lightning Round: Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov return to the ice for Lightning practice

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They won’t be back for the regular season, but it’s good to see them on the power play.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

The last time Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov appeared on the ice at the same time in a NHL game was the 17:15 mark of the second period in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 25th, 2020. That’s right it’s been fourteen months since the two of them did something like this in a sanctioned game:

First it was Stamkos missing the rest of the 2019-20 regular season and most of the playoffs with a core injury. Then it was Kucherov missing all of this season while he recovered from hip surgery. While they did appear in the same game in the Stanley Cup Final (does 2:47 mean anything to people around here?) they did not play on the same line.

So it was wonderful to see the photos of them skating together at practice with the rest of the team on Tuesday.

The nice part was that they weren’t wearing no-contact jerseys (something that Coach Cooper doesn’t really care about) and they were taking regular rushes on a fifth line with Mitchell Stephens. This isn’t like some of the practices earlier in the season where Kucherov would come out on the ice for a few twirls and a drill or two. The two leaders were involved, including spending time on a power play unit at the end of practice with Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and Alex Killorn.

That’s a sight for Lightning fans’ sore eyes, and a bit of a nightmare for the rest of the league. After the practice Coach Cooper did indicate that they aren’t expected to be back for the regular season, especially with the compacted finish with four games in the last six days. For Stamkos, it was the first time the media has seen him skate with the team since his injury at the beginning of April. The coach was cagey (as usual) in regards to his timetable, stating that he is “progressing as he should be”.

The Lightning probably won’t have another full squad practice for the rest of the season, so it was a good opportunity for them to get some work in with their teammates. For Kucherov, it is the beginning of getting him back into game shape after his long layoff. The league still hasn’t announced when they will start the playoffs so there is a chance that he could have a four or five days to get ready for Game One of Round One. The more practices he gets into, the better it will be for his timing and game readiness.

Jan Rutta, who has been out of the line-up since March 30th, also practiced. Unlike the two forwards, there is a chance he makes it back into one of the next four games. Coach Cooper would like to see how he’s recovered from his lower-body injury before throwing him into a playoff game. He knows pretty much what he’s getting out of Stamkos and Kucherov, Rutta is a bit more of a question mark.

Things are heading in the right direction for the Lightning to have a fully healthy roster heading into the playoffs. That’s all we can really ask for as fans, right?

Lightning Links

Gronk shows off his hockey skills

As a youth in Buffalo, Rob Gronkowski played a little hockey. He put those skills on display at the Lightning’s practice on Tuesday as he skated a little and then spent some time stopping pucks. In case you were wondering, no player in franchise history has worn the number “87” in a regular season game.

Where the Lightning stand as they hit the stretch run

Dave Mishkin looks at the status of the Lightning as they play their final four games of the season. He likes the improvements made defensively in terms of lowering shots against and the dwindling number of odd-man rushes against.

Solar Bears stumble at the end of the month

Tracey looks at the long week that was for Orlando. While they may have lost a few, their Orlando Magic-inspired sweaters were the real winners of the week.

Hockey Highlights:

Ch-ch-ch-changes in the AHL

One of the Crunch’s biggest rivals is moving out of the North Division. While it isn’t 100% official, it looks like the Utica Comets are moving to Abbotsford, British Columbis next season. That allows them to be just a touch closer to their NHL affiliate - the Vancouver Canucks. It doesn’t look like Utica will be without hockey for too long as team president, Rob Esche, registered the name “Utica Devils” last month. Presumably the Binghamton Devils, the current AHL partner of the New Jersey Devils, will be relocating there. All of this should be ratified by the AHL Board of Governers on May 6th.

Tom Wilson Fined

After the video of his actions against the Rangers floated around Monday night, I texted “Tom Wilson fined $5,000 the maximum amount allowed under the CBA” as a joke. Well, the joke is on me and the entire league as Wilson was indeed fined just $5,000 for his post-scrum antics. I had half of an article written about it, but decided to scrap it. What’s the point of wasting words on Wilson or the Department of Player Safety?

Rangers issue statement on incident

While I may have trashcanned my thoughts on Wilson, the New York Rangers went scorched earth in their response. I personally can’t remember a team calling for the removal of a NHL executive by name.

Speaking of DoPS:

Should we even hazard a guess as to what the punishment will be? Fifteen game suspension? Five-thousand dollar fine? Fifty dollar fine? Make Gostisbehere write a heartfelt apology letter?

‘Everybody’s tired’

As the majority of the league looks forward to their final week of the regular season (except for the North which has games scheduled through the 19th) it seems like a lot of folks around the league are just happy to have made it to the end.

McDavid’s March to 100, explained

Put a transcendent talent in a division with spotty-to-bad goaltending, sit back and watch him pile up the points. That’s been the story for Connor McDavid and his push for 100 points in just 56 games. Having just played his 50th game, he’s sitting at 91 points. He’s posted multi-point games seven out of the last eight times he’s stepped on the ice. Kudos to the Flames for shutting him out for one game. It’s an impressive run.

PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour rescheduled

The third and final stop for the U.S. showcase circuit will take place in St. Louis on May 16th and 17th. Team addidas will take on Team Women’s Sports Foundation.