Hedman could play in round-robin opener for Lightning

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Victor Hedman could be in the lineup when the Tampa Bay Lightning play their first game of the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Washington Capitals on Monday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto (4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV. SN360, TVAS, SUN, NBCSWA).

Hedman, a finalist for the Norris Trophy awarded to the best defenseman in the NHL, returned to practice Saturday after arriving in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, Friday.

He remained in Tampa last week to tend to a personal issue and participated in individual workouts until he was able to travel.

“I’m very happy to be here,” Hedman said. “[Practice] went well yesterday. We are ready to keep this going and pumped to start playing some games [Monday].” 

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Hedman looked great in practice. 

“He’s an elite athlete,” Cooper said. “He’d been skating back in Tampa for the few days that he wasn’t here, so he hasn’t missed a beat.”

Forward Steven Stamkos did not practice Saturday and is not expected to play Monday. Stamkos has been recovering from a lower-body injury he aggravated before training camp. He was a full participant in practice Monday and Friday. 

Cooper did not want to speculate on Stamkos’ practice status for Sunday. 

“We’ll see when we go to the rink today,” Cooper said. “Then we’ll get a better indication if he’s able to practice.”

The Lightning would like to have Stamkos in the lineup for at least one of the three round-robin games, but Cooper said that playing Monday was unlikely.

Tampa Bay will also play the Boston Bruins (Wednesday) and Philadelphia Flyers (Saturday) to determine seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We never really, in any of our plans, had him playing in this first game,” Cooper said. “I’m not sure that any of that has really changed.”

Stamkos, who was second on the Lightning with 29 goals and 66 points in 57 games before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, has been brought back slowly so that he is fully healthy for the start of the Eastern Conference First Round. He did some drills with the Lightning’s top power-play unit during training camp, but did not go through a full practice until they arrived in Toronto this week. 

Cooper wouldn’t indicate if Stamkos’ availability for the First Round has changed and said he hopes Stamkos will be ready.

“We’re always hopeful,” he said.

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