TAMPA (FOX 13) - Even without their captain, the Lightning showed no signs of slowing down when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
"We just went through a series without him," said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. "We are fully expecting you know, to go through another series without him."
When the Bolts took the ice this morning, a familiar face rejoined the team. Steven Stamkos was back at Amalie Arena ahead of schedule. He's just three weeks removed from surgery, and he wasn't expected back on the ice for at least another week. His status for the Lightning's second round series against the Islanders remains unknown.
"I feel great," said Stamkos, who's been recovering from his April 4 blood clot surgery. "That's kind of the tough part for me is feeling physically ready to play almost, but obviously with this type of injury and the blood thinners and stuff like that, you have to take your time."
Stamkos, on the ice in a red no-contact jersey, was all smiles. But, his presence should not be taken as a sign of an impending return.
"We all know the situation here," said goaltender Ben Bishop. "We know he's just trying to get his feet wet again. You know, we're not sitting here waiting for him to jump back in."
"Naturally, we all want him back," added Cooper.
But when Stamkos will be ready to return, nobody knows. He's still taking blood thinners, and until he's off those, he can't play.
"That's the million-dollar question is 'How long do you have to be on those before you're ready?'" said Stamkos. "That's obviously a decision that has to be made with the doctors."
Teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy was out eight weeks following the same surgery last year, but the timeline for Stamkos' return remains the same: Anywhere from one to three months.
"Now, it's really based on how I'm feeling. How my body's reacting to getting your heart rate up to you know, going hard on the bike or the treadmill, getting out there and skating," continued Stamkos. "There's been no complications with that and obviously that means that the blood's flowing well, it's circulating throughout the system and that's really what we want."
Steven Stamkos back on ice for this morning's skate. Just a few weeks removed from surgery. Updates to come later. pic.twitter.com/xgSHlWQQPm— Merissa Lynn (@MerissaFOX13) April 26, 2016