For Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, life in the bubble must be agonizing.
The 30-year-old has not appeared in a game for the team in this post-season, but he did skate in 57 regular season games and scored 29 goals with 37 assists.
Stamkos has been in the bubble with his teammates in this strangest of playoff runs and he’s had to watch as his Lightning have cleared a path to the Stanley Cup Final. Still ruled out for Game One of the series against the Dallas Stars, the forward at least joined his club on the ice when they accepted the Prince of Wales Trophy on Thursday.
But honestly, that’s not enough. Not remotely.
For Stamkos, this run of bad luck has to be awful to endure.
After all, he missed his chance at skating with Team Canada in Sochi in 2014 thanks to a broken leg and played just one game when Tampa ran to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016. He knows this terrain almost too well.
This season, Stamkos had core muscle surgery after skating for a good chunk of the year. He was lined up for a six-to-eight week recovery stint and was skating by the time life in the bubble was formally announced, so naturally he joined the Lightning in Toronto.
But then, a setback happened. The details of this setback have not been reported, but Stamkos has been deemed unfit to play for all 19 games of Tampa’s post-season so far. According to Lighting general manager Julien BriseBois, he’s still rehabbing and not entirely ruled out of joining the club against the Stars.
That’s encouraging but hardly concrete.
Stamkos has skated a number of times and was seen firing off some one-timers in clips shown on the NHL’s website. If all the hard work pays off and he gets his way into the series, it would tell one amazing story.
As good as the Lightning have been, having their captain in the fold is a natural morale boost. With five games in the next eight day, even the slightest push would do a world of good as they challenge for the ultimate prize.