Stamkos practices with Lightning, could be ready for start of playoffs

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Steven Stamkos practiced with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury last month, and the forward could be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Just progressing as he should be and good to see him on the ice with us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday. “I think the guys were excited to have pretty much all our players on the ice today so, yep, good first step.”

Stamkos, who has scored 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 38 games, was injured during the third period of a 6-4 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 8. Cooper said April 17 that the injury was not related to an abdominal core muscle injury Stamkos sustained last season. Stamkos also missed games Feb. 11 and 13 with a lower-body injury.

The Lightning (35-14-3) have clinched a playoff berth and are third in the eight-team Discover Central Division, four points behind the first-place Carolina Hurricanes and two points behind the second-place Florida Panthers. No start date for the playoffs has been announced.

Cooper said Stamkos and forward Nikita Kucherov, who has been out this season after having surgery on his right hip Dec. 29, have been cleared for contact. But he said it’s unlikely either will play in one of the Lightning’s final four regular-season games.

Kucherov, who has been skating since March, scored 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists) in 68 games last season, and scored 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 25 playoff games to help Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup.

“Four games in six nights, it would be tough,” Cooper said. “We’re getting these guys incorporated into practices. We don’t have too many, to be honest. This is probably our last one until the end of the regular season. The big thing for these guys is getting their stamina. That’s what they need. Cleared for contact is kind of irrelevant because there’s not a whole lot of contact going on in any of these (practices), but it’s getting their stamina going right now.”

Cooper said defenseman Jan Rutta, who sustained a lower-body injury during a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on March 30, could play before the end of the regular season. Rutta has scored eight points, all assists, in 33 games.

The Lightning next play at home against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSSW+, NHL.TV).

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