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Steven Stamkos is back
TAMPA Alex Ovechkin Jersey Kids , Fla. (AP) on the ice, eager to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning into the NHL playoffs.The five-time All-Star missed the last three games of the regular season with a lower-body injury. He returned to practice this week and hopes to be ready Thursday for the start of a first-round series against the New Jersey Devils.”It was obviously tough,” said Stamkos, who watched the Lightning go 2-0-1 down the stretch to hold off the Boston Bruins for the Atlantic Division title and No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.”You want to be in those games. But the more important games are now, and I just want to make sure I feel as good as possible heading into the playoffs,” the team’s second-leading scorer added. ”Hopefully it keeps progressing and I can feel good come Thursday.”Stamkos, a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, rebounded from missing most of last season with a knee injury to bolster the NHL’s most prolific offense with 27 goals and a career-high 59 assists for 86 points in 78 games.The 28-year-old center anticipates a tough matchup against the young Devils, who won all three regular-season meetings between the teams.”It doesn’t really matter where you finish (in the standings) any more. All these other teams are their own different animals come playoff time,” Stamkos said. ”It’s a fresh start once you get into the playoffs. Regular season is regular season. We all know that.”Stamkos’ health figures as a key to the series.He missed 65 games after undergoing surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee last season Braden Holtby Jersey , when the Lightning narrowly missed the playoffs. Two years ago, a blood clot discovered near his collarbone sidelined the center from late in the regular season until Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when Tampa Bay lost to eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.The Lightning didn’t practice Tuesday, but coach Jon Cooper said the team remained hopeful of having Stamkos back for Game 1 against the Devils.Stamkos is optimistic, too, though with his history of injuries in recent seasons he has no illusions about being completely healthy when he returns.”Listen, my body will never be 100 percent, regardless, going through the stuff I’ve been through,” the No. 1 overall pick from the 2008 draft said. ”So there’s no point asking about percentages.”— CORAL SPRINGS Youth Christian Djoos Jersey , Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers desperately need a boost, and Vincent Trocheck has pronounced himself ready to provide one.Barely eight weeks removed from surgery to repair the right ankle that he fractured by crashing into the boards during a game at Ottawa, Trocheck took part in a full practice Thursday for the first time since the injury happened. He’s been back on the ice for the last couple weeks, limited to either working out either on his own or with a small group.“I’ve been pushing to play for the last couple weeks,” Trocheck said. “So I don’t think it’s up to me at this point. It’s just a matter of whenever they give me the go-ahead. When I get back out there, it’ll be 100 percent me. Whenever they give me the go, I’ll be ready.”He’ll likely miss only three more games before returning. The Panthers play Friday against Toronto, Saturday against Nashville and Monday against San Jose. The All-Star break follows that stretch, and when Florida resumes play on Feb. 1 it seems that barring a setback Trocheck will be back in the lineup.“The doctors have basically said his healing process is back to where it should be, his cardio is back to where it should be http://www.officialcapitals.com/authenti...sky-jersey , he’s ready to play as of right now,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “But we’re going to do the smart thing, obviously, and not rush him back until after the break. If it was Game 7 tonight, he’d be in.”Trocheck had a series of checkmarks to hit before reaching this point. The first step was getting his cast removed after surgery, followed by having the ability to walk again, then some strength-building, then getting skates on and stepping back onto the ice. All that remains on the list now is suiting up for games.“It was tough to see him go out,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. “But it’s nice to have him back.”Trocheck can’t get back soon enough for Florida, which is facing a long road back into the playoff picture.The Panthers have lost seven consecutive games http://www.officialcapitals.com/authenti...sov-jersey , their longest slide since dropping nine straight early in the 2013-14 season. They started Thursday 14 points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and even with roughly half the season left — 37 of their 82 games — they are, at best, highly doubtful to make a postseason appearance.“I’m sure you can imagine, it’s been tough to watch,” Trocheck said. “Win or lose, I want to be on the ice. It’s a matter of me wanting to be out there. It’s been a tough couple months.”

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