After Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBrois left open the possibility of Steven Stamkos returning at some point during the playoffs, coach Jon Cooper confirmed Sunday that the Lightning captain won’t be making his return against the Islanders.
Cooper announced Sunday that Stamkos, who has been rehabbing an undisclosed lower-body injury since February, would not be available for the Eastern Conference finals. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday night in Edmonton at 8 p.m.
The 30-year-old Stamkos had joined the Lightning for Phase 2 voluntary workouts in June but didn’t participate fully during training camp aside from some drills with the top power-play unit. Cooper said Sunday that Stamkos didn’t practice with the team and that he would relay updates as they came.
“If something’s going to happen and he’s getting close, I will be the first one to tell you,” Cooper said Sunday. “But from here on out, you shouldn’t ask the questions because the answer’s not going to change. If something comes, I will update you.”
Stamkos, who was second on the team in scoring this season with 66 points, hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 25 and underwent core muscle surgery March 2. He was given a six-to-eight week recovery timeline but Monday will mark over six months since his surgery.
He didn’t go through a full practice until the Lightning arrived in Toronto on July 26.
“Everybody wants him to play and he wants to play, but as of now … you get caught up in the collective momentum of how we’re doing things and everybody’s just pushing each other,” Cooper said last week. “He’s just as big a supporter of our group as anybody and so it’s good to see.
Nikita Kucherov was injured during Game 5 of the Lightning’s second-round series against the Bruins after he caught Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara’s stick in the face. Cooper said Kucherov, the 2019 Hart Trophy winner, will be available for Game 1.
Barry Trotz had some high praise for Cooper, noting that the two coaches got to know each other better since being in the Toronto bubble.
“Coop has won at every level,” Trotz said. “He’s done a great job in Tampa with the team that he has, they play upbeat, they’re high-skilled, they’ve added different pieces the last couple years. With Coop, he’s a really good hockey mind and he coaches the team that he’s given. … Using their assets to their advantage and I think Coop has done a really good job of that. We know each other, obviously in the bubble we got to know each other even more, he’s great and couple of his staff members I’ve worked with in the past.”