Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has not played an NHL game in 55 days, is in the lineup for his team’s most important game of the season tonight in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It should not come as a huge surprise that Stamkos is ready to play. When he was diagnosed with a blood clot near his right collarbone, it was expected he would be out of the Tampa lineup anywhere between one and three months. Playing on the second line between Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan, Stamkos gives the Lightning an enormous emotional lift.
When asked prior to the game whether Stamkos would play, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said his captain’s versatility would be a welcomed addition. “He’s played hundreds of games with me as his coach,” Cooper said. “He’s played center, wing, he’s killed penalties, he’s played in the power play, and the rest of the time he’s sitting on the bench with me. So he’s pretty much done it all except for play goal. So that’s what he does when he plays, and he’s really good at it - at all those. The worst thing he does is sit on the bench. That’s what he’s worst at. Other than that, that’s what he does.”
Adding to the subtext is whether or not this will be the last game Stamkos plays for the Lightning. Should the Lightning lose Game 7 and be eliminated from the playoffs, it likely will be. Stamkos is an unrestricted free agent July 1 and it’s been speculated that if Stamkos were going to renew his contract with Tampa Bay, he would have done so already.