On the day of the NHL Trade Deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning have at least one reason to celebrate. Star center Steven Stamkos, sidelined since Nov. 11 with a broken right tibia, tweeted this morning that he’s been given the green light by doctors and will rejoin the lineup tomorrow night when the team hosts the Buffalo Sabres.
This news certainly comes at a great time for the Lightning, who have been struggling to find wins since the new year began, costing them precious points in the ever-tight playoff race. Before seeing his season interrupted, Stamkos’ 14 goals and 23 points led the team. He also boasted a fabulous plus-11 rating, which had many across the league stopping to take notice of the boys in blue. Some even went as far as saying he’d be crowned league MVP if things kept going at the rate they were.
When he was stretchered off the ice during that fateful Veterans Day game against the Boston Bruins, however, lots of people thought the Lightning’s season was in dire jeopardy. And, really, who could blame them? It’s not easy losing a former 60-goal scorer, two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner and potential MVP candidate for nearly four months.
But, credit to first year head coach Jon Cooper and his team, the Lightning hung tough in the difficult Atlantic Division. A lot of that is thanks to the play of starting goaltender Ben Bishop, captain Martin St. Louis, offseason acquisition Valtteri Filppula and rookie Calder Trophy candidate Tyler Johnson among others.
Even so, the Lightning have hit a bump in the road lately, losing seven of their past 10 games. In those contests, they’re only scoring 2-3 goals, which leaves very little room for error.
Could the return of Stamkos be just what the doctor ordered for a Lightning team that’s coming off a horrendous 1-3 road trip? While unrealistic to expect he’ll pick up right where he left off months ago, there’s no doubt his return will provide Tampa Bay with a much-needed boost heading into the season’s final month.