First Batch Of Olympians Return To Practice

Monday, 02.24.2014 / 4:35 PM
Missy Zielinski  - Lightning Beat Reporter

Following their first practice back with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Czech Republic teammates Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat had nothing but glowing reviews of their time in Sochi, Russia.

"It was awesome being on the same team with players like [Jaromir] Jagr and [Marek] Zidlicky," Gudas said. "It was a once in a lifetime experience."

"From the second we landed – the village, the organization, the Olympic park – everything was perfect," Palat said.

Traveling as teammates also made the Winter Games that much more memorable for the two Bolts.

"We landed and we had all our Olympic gear and finally realized we were in the Olympics together," Palat said. "We were roomies and we had a lot of fun together the whole time."

There was also another close friend and member of the Tampa Bay organization that they faced head-to-head in the quarterfinal round of international play – Richard Panik.

"My girlfriend is best friends with his girlfriend, so we were talking about it," Palat said. "Then we played against each other in one of the most important games. We were laughing at each other and we ended up winning, so it was positive."

The cutthroat-style of play in the Olympics, that includes single-game elimination after the qualification round, also helped them prepare for the atmosphere and pressure that may come if the Lightning can grab a playoff berth. Gudas did say though that the 25 games that lie ahead are the focus now rather than the postseason.

Team Czech Republic was eventually eliminated in the semifinals to Team USA, but Gudas and Palat are eagerly awaiting the other Olympians' return home.

"It's going to be exciting when they get back, but I'm looking forward to seeing them and congratulating them."

Head coach Jon Cooper told the medal-winning Olympians (Martin St. Louis – Gold Medal, Sami Salo – Bronze Medal) that they do not have to report to the team until their take-off Wednesday for Nashville, although there is a possibility they might appear at practice Wednesday by choice.

GUDLEVSKIS STAYING AS INSURANCE

With Anders Lindback currently not cleared to return between the pipes, netminder Kristers Gudlevskis will stay with the Lightning for now.

"There was no way we were going to put him in games in Syracuse after what he went through in the Olympics," Cooper said. "We thought it was best to bring him here and get him into the flow of our team and taking shots."

Gudlevskis comes to Tampa Bay after nearly single-handedly knocking out Team Canada in the quarterfinal round of the Winter Games with a 55-save performance. Latvia fell 2-1 to Canada.

It was a great experience for me as a goalie and hopefully it will give me a lot more confidence in games," Gudlevskis said. "The game against Canada was kind of like an NHL game, I felt it was a really exciting moment all game long."

Yet Gudlevskis was surprised with the amount of attention he received, especially because Latvia was eliminated from medal contention.

"Maybe it was too much," he said. "We lost that game and we can't be satisfied with losing; it almost doesn't count."

The determination on where Gudlevskis will end up as well as Lindback's status will come when the team heads to Nashville Wednesday.

"We very well might leave a goalie behind or bring all three of them," Cooper said.

OTHER ODDS 'N ENDS

Barring any setbacks, Cooper said he expects Matt Carle, Valtteri Filppula and Tyler Johnson to play Thursday in Nashville. All three practiced for the first time Monday since returning from the Olympic break.

Steven Stamkos will undergo a CT scan Monday afternoon to see if he is cleared to play. Cooper said he is mentally preparing for Stamkos to return early in March, saying if he returns sooner than that then they will be "playing with the house's money." Cooper also said he could in fact return Thursday, but the X-ray will provide a better answer.

After being claimed from waivers, defenseman Mike Kostka is expected to arrive in Tampa Monday afternoon.

The team will be off tomorrow and practice in Brandon Wednesday, before heading to Nasvhille in preparation for Thursday's game against the Predators.

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