Stamkos ready to return for Lightning against Panthers

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Steven Stamkos said he is ready to return to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning when they host the Florida Panthers on Monday (7 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, SUN, FS-F, NHL.TV).

The forward skated on a line with left wing Ondrej Palat and center Brayden Point, and on the first power-play unit, during the morning skate.

“I felt good, ready to go tonight,” Stamkos said. “It’s exciting to get back.”

Stamkos did not play the past two games. He had a lower-body injury, sustained during the third period at the Nashville Predators on Feb. 9, and was placed on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list Friday. He was removed from the list Sunday.

“To be honest, I had a really, really good possibility that was a false positive, just the way the whole process works with the amount of testing that we’re doing, the rapid testing, the regular testing,” Stamkos said. “It’s bound to happen. It’s happened a few times to other players in the League. We’re pretty strict with their protocols here. The last couple of days [stunk] because you can’t skate, you can’t go in with the guys, you can’t get the treatment that you want. But that’s the protocol and it’s to create a safe environment and I’m just excited to be back.”

Stamkos has scored 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 11 games, third on the Lightning behind Point (16 points) and defenseman Victor Hedman (15 points).

The Lightning (10-2-1) split their two games without Stamkos, their six-game winning streak ending with a 5-2 loss at the Panthers on Feb. 11. They won 6-1 at the Panthers on Saturday.

“Obviously looking forward to get him back,” Hedman said. “The way he’s been playing to start the year, we need him in the lineup. He makes a big difference for us so we’re very happy that he’s back.”

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