With distractions behind, Lightning poised for playoff push
For many, the last 24 hours have been anger, unanswered questions and confusion, but for the Tampa Bay Lightning it has been a sigh of relief.
"Marty is gone, the trade deadline's over, this is our group," Steven Stamkos said.
The departure of their former captain Martin St. Louis was indefinitely discussed before they took the ice today, but the Bolts' attention lay on the last month and a half of their regular season slate.
"We have no choice but to move on, so we need to make a push," Stamkos said.
Part of being prepared for what lies ahead includes getting newly acquired forward Ryan Callahan, who landed in Tampa Bay a little more than 12 hours ago, acclimated with his surroundings.
Callahan skated on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Alex Killorn during his first practice with the Lightning Thursday, but head coach Jon Cooper said he didn't expect any of his lines to remain constant by the end of tonight's contest against the Buffalo Sabres, as they find chemistry and learn how Callahan plays.
"It's one thing to watch him on TV all these years, it's another to have him on the bench," Cooper said.
Callahan has come to be known for his gritty style of play, presence in front of the net and his ability to block shots and has left a lasting impression on Cooper as the Bolts head coach recalled past games against the New York Rangers.
"It was usually him running into our goalie and me saying 'is somebody going to address that?'" Cooper said. "You can't have enough of those guys on your team, the kid plays hard."
"I try to be a tough guy to play against," Callahan said. "I like to finish my checks, be hard on the forecheck and I think I create my offense through that. I pride myself in my penalty killing and blocking shots and I like to think of myself as a well-rounded player."
And while it seems human nature to compare the new with the old, Cooper made it clear from the moment the two first spoke that he has no intentions of comparing him to St. Louis, which Callahan said was comforting to hear.
"I realize emotions are involved with Marty leaving, but by no means am I trying to come in and do what he did," Callahan said. "I'm going to come in and play the way I do."
As long as the 5-foot-11, 190-pound, Rochester, N.Y. native can do just that, he will be what Cooper called a "home run" for the Lightning organization and another reason for a team that has continued to fight, despite so much adversity, to keep eyeing their postseason run.
"No matter what happens these are the guys we're going to go to battle with," Stamkos said. "We've been resilient all year and this is just something else to add to the list and something I believe this team will overcome."
STAMKOS READY TO RETURN
After missing 45 games with a broken right tibia, Stamkos expressed his excitement to re-join the Lightning in game action for the first time since November 11 on Thursday.
"It was nice to actually have a morning skate where I was part of a line," Stamkos said.
Stamkos admitted he would be a mix of anxious and nervous heading into tonight's game versus Buffalo, but after a few shifts expected it to wear off.
During the team's morning skate Stamkos centered Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn. He is expected to get power-play minutes, but Cooper may hold off on adding him to a penalty kill unit.
OTHER ODDS 'N ENDS
- Netminder Anders Lindback was first off the ice this morning and from every indication is expected to start tonight.
- Radko Gudas (lower body) did not skate with the team Thursday and is highly doubtful for their game versus the Buffalo Sabres. Cooper did report that Gudas' injury is not as bad as they had originally thought.
- Other line rushes from morning skate included: Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Ryan Malone and J.T. Brown-Nate Thompson-Richard Panik