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Podcast: Breaking down Lightning stretch run

The Lightning is entering the stretch run, and is closing in on clinching a playoff spot, not to mention fighting for the division lead.

Can Tampa Bay start to click by the time the second season rolls around? Where will it finish? Is it primed for another run?

We discuss those topics and more in this week's Lightning Strikes podcast, with guest Ondrej Palat discussing the team's recent play, as well as his resurgence after a first half filled with injuries. Other topics for podcast include the impact of Anton Stralman's injury, Ben Bishop's play and Steven Stamkos.

(Click below to listen)

 

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Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Callahan expected back for Lightning

Nikita Kucherov is expected to return to the lineup tonight.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov is expected to return to the lineup tonight.

The Lightning is getting back to full strength - at least up front - with wings Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan expected to return to the lineup tonight.

Kucherov had been considered questionable since he missed the last two games with a lower body injury - getting struck in the left foot by a shot Friday. He was back on the ice for Thursday's skate, rejoining captain Steven Stamkos on the top line.

Callahan, who hasn't played since Mar. 17 in Dallas, has also been dealing with a lower-body injury. He was on a line Thursday with Valtteri Filppula and Cedric Paquette. Vladislav Namestnikov moved down to the fourth line with Brian Boyle and J.T. Brown.

It appears RW Mike Blunden and RW Erik Condra will be healthy scratches tonight, along with Slater Koekkoek. …

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Nikita Kucherov questionable for tonight, Slater Koekkoek recalled

Wing Nikita Kucherov is questionable tonight after getting hurt blocking a shot in the third period last night.

[DIRK SHADD | Times]

Wing Nikita Kucherov is questionable tonight after getting hurt blocking a shot in the third period last night.

It's bad enough for the Lightning that top-pairing defenseman Anton Stralman is out indefinitely after fracturing his leg Friday night.

But Tampa Bay may also enter tonight's showdown for first place against the Panthers without one of its top scorers.

Wing Nikita Kucherov is questionable tonight after getting hurt blocking a shot in the third period Friday. He finished the game, but his status is in doubt tonight.

"It's hard to say," coach Jon Cooper said. "I would say I'm more worried about that right now, but I'm not, just because I'm uncertain."

Veterans Valtteri Filppula (upper body) and Ryan Callahan (lower body) participated in the optional morning skate, but aren't expected to play. Defenseman Slater Koekkoek was recalled from AHL Syracuse, so the Lightning could go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

It'd make sense, on a back to back, go use seven defensemen to parcel out the minutes in the absence of Stralman, who is out the rest of the regular season and likely at least the first round of the playoffs. …

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Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula likely out through weekend

Valtteri Filppula, who has skated with the team since Saturday in Glendale, indicated he's "really close," having tried a little bit of contact in the last couple days.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Valtteri Filppula, who has skated with the team since Saturday in Glendale, indicated he's "really close," having tried a little bit of contact in the last couple days.

Both center Valtteri Filppula and wing Ryan Callahan participated in Friday's morning skate, albeit in gray, non-contact jerseys.

And while the veterans are getting closer to a return, both were out Friday and are likely to miss Saturday's showdown with the first-place Panthers.

Filppula, who has skated with the team since Saturday in Glendale, indicated he's "really close," having tried a little bit of contact in the last couple days.

"It's still not where I want it to be," Filppula said. "But good thing now is everything else feels pretty close to normal. I don't think it'll be too much longer."

Callahan has skated on his own the past couple days but this was his first practice with the team since getting hurt Mar. 17 in Dallas. He's doubtful for Saturday's game, having not tried much contact yet. The team next plays Monday against Toronto.

"It's been lingering for a while and kind of hit its tipping point in the Dallas game," Callahan said. Just take it day by day." …

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Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula out against Red Wings

Ryan Callahan is out with a lower body injury.

AP photo

Ryan Callahan is out with a lower body injury.

The Lightning remain shorthanded for its showdown with the Red Wings tonight.

Both wing Ryan Callahan (lower body) and center Valtteri Filppula (upper body) will miss tonight's game, though both could return this weekend. The Lightning hosts the Islanders Friday and Panthers Saturday.

Filppula has been sidelined three games, though he participated in today's morning skate in a regular jersey. Callahan has been out one game, and didn't skate today.

"Hopefully on the weekend for him," coach Jon Cooper said.

There's never a good time for injuries, but with 10 games to go and the Lightning still fighting for playoff position, missing two veterans is difficult. The Lightning is two points out of first place in the Atlantic but just five points ahead of the Flyers, who are in the ninth spot.

"When you're getting down to the shorthairs of the season, you don't like to have guys out, especially when you're battling for a playoff spot," Cooper said. "It's so tight, aside from Washington, nobody really has a whole ton of breathing room. You're battling every single night." …

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Filppula back on the ice, could return next week

Valtteri Filppula, who has missed the last two games with an upper body injury, will not play tonight against the Coyotes.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Valtteri Filppula, who has missed the last two games with an upper body injury, will not play tonight against the Coyotes.

Veteran center Valtteri Filppula was back on the ice Saturday morning, albeit wearing a red non-contact jersey.

Filppula, who has missed the last two games with an upper body injury, will not play tonight against the Coyotes and probably won't Tuesday against Detroit. But Filppula could be back by next weekend.

"It's encouraging to see him out there," coach Jon Cooper said. "Baby steps, but we thought it might be weeks away and now maybe it's not going to be that."

Filppula got hurt in the first period of Sunday's 4-0 win over Columbus, saying it was on an ordinary play that "happens every game." He also skated on Friday's offday. While Filppula admits he still doensn't feel great, it was a "big step" to be back on the ice.

"It's tough, at least for me, it's the first time (for) this kind of stuff," Filppula said. "I don't really  know how long it's going to be, but definitely it's nice for my head to be able to get out there and spend some time with the guys on the ice. So it's nice, hopefully I'm not too far away." …

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Brenden Morrow retires, left impact on Lightning

Brenden Morrow, center, waves while standing with Stars president Jim Lites, left, and former teammate Marty Turco at the end of Morrow's retirement news conference today in Dallas.

AP photo

Brenden Morrow, center, waves while standing with Stars president Jim Lites, left, and former teammate Marty Turco at the end of Morrow's retirement news conference today in Dallas.

Veteran wing Brenden Morrow announced his retirement Thursday in Dallas, where it all started for him nearly two decades ago.

And it was fitting that the Lightning was in town for it, as Tampa Bay was where Morrow's impressive career ended last season, two wins shy of his elusive first Stanley Cup.

"It wasn't the Peyton Manning finish, I got close," Morrow said, smiling. "The game has changed so much, it's gotten so fast. But I really did enjoy my time with those young kids."

Morrow said his biggest disappointment in his career is never winning a Cup, admitting it'll "eat at me for a while." But during an emotional 10-minute speech, Morrow thanked all the people that helped him go from a farmboy from Saskatchewan to an Olympic medalist and Stars captain. His best line was about his wife, Ann-Marie, saying she's so tough, "I wish she were my winger."

Morrow got to catch up with some former Lightning teammates, who lauded his impact on - and off - the ice in the one season in Tampa Bay. Captain Steven Stamkos said Morrow helped him become a better leader, teaching him how to pick his spots to speak up. …

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Dalton Prout gets one-game suspension for punch on Kucherov

Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout has been suspended one game for his "forceful punch" to the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov in Sunday's game.

AP photo

Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout has been suspended one game for his "forceful punch" to the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov in Sunday's game.

Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout has been suspended one game for his "forceful punch" to the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov in Sunday's game.

The NHL Department of Player Safety announced the ruling after a phone hearing with Prout today, explaining that Kucherov was "unsuspecting" and noting that it wasn't a case where the two players were "squaring off in confrontation."

Kucherov left the game shortly after serving his own roughing penalty, though is expected to return ot the lineup tonight against the Maple Leafs.

It's likely Prout's lack of discipline history played into getting suspended just one game, Director of Player Safety director Patrick Burke said the Columbus' defenseman's actions were not an acceptable way of defending a teammate. Kucherov was part of a scrum behind the Lightning net when Prout came in with his right fist.

“Kucherov has no reason to believe that a punch may be thrown by Prout,” Burke said.

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Stamkos enjoys 'relaxing' trip to Toronto

Steven Stamkos has a team-high 31 goals, and the Lightning is 10-3-1 since Steve Yzerman's statement.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos has a team-high 31 goals, and the Lightning is 10-3-1 since Steve Yzerman's statement.

Usually, when Lightning captain Steven Stamkos returns to his hometown of Toronto, it can be a bit stressful.

There's all the hoopla and speculation surrounding Stamkos, 26, potentially signing with the Maple Leafs if he hits unrestricted free agency July 1. For example, a story on the front of the Toronto Sun sports section Tuesday had the headline "Leafs actually attractive landing spot," with "plenty to offer free agents such as Tampa's Stamkos."

But this trip still had a different feel. While the last two stops in Toronto this season were rushed on the back of a back-to-back for Tampa Bay, Stamkos got to spend Monday's offday at his parents house, visiting with family and eating a homecooked meal. He joked he was a bit bored.

"It was nice and relaxing," he said.

With GM Steve Yzerman declaring in mid-February Stamkos wouldn't be traded at the Feb. 29 deadline, that put out some fires. And with the Lightning just a few weeks away from the playoffs, vying for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, that's been more of the focus than Stamkos' contract. …

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Kucherov back tonight, Filppula out rest of trip?

Nikita Kucherov had left Sunday's game in Columbus in the second period after getting sucker punched by Dalton Prout.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov had left Sunday's game in Columbus in the second period after getting sucker punched by Dalton Prout.

The Lightning got some encouraging news on the injury front as wing Nikita Kucherov was in the morning skate and will play tonight against Toronto. 

Kucherov had left Sunday's game in Columbus in the second period after getting sucker punched by Dalton Prout. Prout has a phone hearing today with the NHL Department of Player Safety and could face supplemental discipline.

On the other hand, center Valtteri Filppula (upper body) is out tonight and might miss the rest of the trip, coach Jon Cooper said. Cooper said Filppula is still with the team, not sent back to Tampa for evaluation.

Mike Blunden is still here and will play, with Cedric Paquette (lower body) not ready, though he skated. It looks like the Lightning will go with 11 forwards again with Erik Condra a possible scratch. Andrei Vasilevskiy is in net, his fourth start this season against Toronto (he's won all three).  …

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Prout to have hearing over sucker punch of Kucherov

The Blue Jackets Dalton Prout will have a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety Tuesday and could face supplemental discipline over his sucker punch of Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov Sunday.

Kucherov left the game and did not return. Coach Jon Cooper didn't have an update on his status postgame. 

Kucherov was in a scrum behind the net when Prout skated in and delivered a punch to Kucherov's face. Prout got a two minute roughing penalty and 10 minute misconduct. Kucherov went to the box for two minutes but didn't play after serving the penalty. 

Its the second time in a week an opposing player has had a hearing over a headshot to Kucherov. Boston's John Michael Liles had one for his illegal check to the head Tuesday, but received no discipline. 

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Podcast: Breaking down Drouin's return - and future - with ESPN's Scott Burnside

Jonathan Drouin is back - at least, with AHL Syracuse - ending a six-month holdout and suspension.

Will he get a chance to play with the Lightning again this season?

In this week's Lightning Strikes podcast, we break down Drouin's decision to call GM Steve Yzerman and return to the Crunch. How can this help him and the organization going forward? Is the relationship salvageable?

Our guest this week is ESPN senior hockey writer Scott Burnside, who weighs in on Drouin, the Eastern Conference playoff race and the tough decision looming in the next year on Ben Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy as the future No. 1?

(Click below to listen)

 

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Cooper says no 'grudge' with Drouin, would welcome him back

Jonathan Drouin is scheduled to play for AHL Syracuse tonight in his first game since ending his six-week holdout.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Jonathan Drouin is scheduled to play for AHL Syracuse tonight in his first game since ending his six-week holdout.

Wing Jonathan Drouin is scheduled to play for AHL Syracuse tonight in his first game since ending his six-week holdout.

Lot of eyes in Tampa Bay will likely be on Drouin, 20, with GM Steve Yzerman leaving the door open for the No. 3 pick from 2013 to get a callup to the Lightning at some point this season or in playoffs.

And that wouldn't be an issue for coach Jon Cooper, even with Drouin's decision to request a trade in November and make it public in January.

"It's not a situation for any of us where it's a personal grudge thing or anything like that," Cooper told Times writers Tom Jones and Rick Stroud on 620-AM this morning. "He felt this was something he had to do, and I think it took a lot of guts to do what he did, whether it was right or wrong. But to sit here and say, 'Oh my gosh, that kid will never come back, you can't say that. I don't think you can sit here and say, 'Well this kid is 20 years old, made this decision and now  he's done with the organization. …

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Drouin thinks relationship with Lightning is salvageable

Despite having requested a trade in November, Jonathan Drouin said today he thinks his relationship with the Lightning is salvageable.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Despite having requested a trade in November, Jonathan Drouin said today he thinks his relationship with the Lightning is salvageable.

After sitting at home for six weeks in a holdout, wing Jonathan Drouin was back on the ice Tuesday with AHL Syracuse, which could be a first step in rejuvenating his career and potentially repairing his image.

And it sounds like Drouin hasn't ruled out eventually returning to the Lightning.

Despite having requested a trade in November, Drouin, 20, said he thinks his relationship with the organization is salvageable.

"I think our relationship is fine," Drouin told reporters in Syracuse after practice, per Lindsay Kramer from the Syracuse Post-Standard. "We've talked to make the decision to come back here. I think we're going to fix this in the summer and see how it goes from there."

RELATED: Jonathan Drouin will report to Lightning's AHL affiliate; suspension lifted

Drouin said he worked out at Concordia University in Montreal during his layoff, which started when he failed to show for a Jan. 20 game with the Crunch in Toronto, sparking the suspension. …

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Coburn probably going to miss two games; Sustr out tonight

Braydon Coburn is likely to miss the next two games with a lower-body injury.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Braydon Coburn is likely to miss the next two games with a lower-body injury.

The Lightning is all of a sudden banged-up on the blueline.

Veteran Braydon Coburn is likely to miss the next two games with a lower-body injury, and defenseman Andrej Sustr is out at least tonight against the Flyers. 

Slater Koekkoek was called up Sunday and is expected to play tonight, giving Tampa Bay six healthy defensemen.

"We haven't lost multiple guys (this season), this is a first for us," Cooper said. "Just as when (Jason) Garrison went down, we've been able to weather that storm a little bit. You can't have this  happen too much more now. There's no worries on that front."

Sustr participated in today's morning skate (Coburn wasn't there), saying he's getting better every day since suffering the injury a week ago against Toronto. Sustr said he'll wait and see how he feels tomorrow before deciding if he can play Tuesday against the Bruins. If not, he'll target Friday for his return.

Andrei Vasilevskiy will make the start where he won his NHL debut last season. Ben Bishop then would start Tuesday against Boston. …

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