ST. PAUL, Minn. — Shortly after formal drills were completed during the Lightning’s morning skate, Steven Stamkos ventured to one end of the ice to engage in battle drills with teammates.
After pushing, prodding, starting and stopping several times while fighting for the puck along the wall, Stamkos came out smiling. Such battles were the next challenge he had to face in his quest to return to the Tampa Bay lineup by the end of the week.
“I was having fun and it’s great for me to be able to go in there and feel good coming out,’’ said Stamkos, who broke his leg on Nov. 11. “To do those pretty good battle drills in the corner and going against big guys like (Victor) Hedman and (Ryan) Malone, just to know that it felt really good after that, that was another mental hurdle.
“As I’ve said a lot of it is mental. Physically it’s feeling a lot better, very minimal pain, so you just try to get over the fact that when you do get bumped around, it’s going to be stable and it’s going to be strong.’’
While a return to the lineup on Saturday, the last game before the Olympic break, remains the target, Stamkos is scheduled to have his 12-week X-ray on Wednesday. The results will be discussed before he receives medical clearance to play.
“I can’t see anything being a problem,’’ Stamkos said, “but you just want to get that clearance knowing that everything is OK and looking forward to hopefully hearing good news and getting ready for a game.’’
Head coach Jon Cooper could see right away how Stamkos felt taking on the heavier contact.
“There was just a little glitter in his eyes, he was getting excited,’’ Cooper said. “But it’s still a baby step. It’s way different battling with your own teammates and practicing a little bit as opposed to having guys that are the ‘enemy.’
“But he just keeps climbing the mountain and I think he’s getting pretty close to the top here. So that’s good news for all of us.’’
LW Ondrej Palat was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January after leading all rookies with 16 points in 15 games. Palat finished January with five goals and 11 assists, two more points than linemate and fellow rookie Tyler Johnson, who has seven goals and 14 points in the month.
Palat, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, enters Tuesday’s game against Minnesota ranked fourth overall among rookies with 31 points and is second among all rookies with a plus-20 rating.
“I think everyone on the team helped me, my teammates and my linemates,” Palat said, “so I thanked them.’’
Cooper said there was some good-natured ribbing going on between Johnson and Palat when the award was announced.
“Tyler Johnson has gotten a lot of the fanfare, and deservedly so,” Cooper said. “So, for Ondrej to pull that award out, there was a lot of good ribbing in the room.
“I think everything Tyler Johnson has done Ondrej has been there every step with him. You kind of wish they could both get recognized but the fact that one did, that’s awesome for them.’’
RW J.T. Brown returned to his hometown as an NHL player for the first time since leaving the University of Minnesota-Duluth after his sophomore year.
As a freshman, Brown helped the Bulldogs win a national title at Xcel Energy Center and was named the most outstanding player of the tournament. He grew up in nearby Burnsville and played at Rosemount High School.
In addition to his father, former NFL running back Ted Brown, Brown said upwards of 50 family and friends planned on attending the game, including his younger brother, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Tuesday.
“It’s special, I don’t get to play in front of my friends and family that much anymore obviously not being in Minnesota,’’ J.T. Brown said. “So, it’s nice to be able to see those who haven’t seen me play in a long time. And just playing in this building will always be special.’’
Brown was on the ice for the opening faceoff, along with Nate Thompson, Ryan Malone and Matt Carle, who all spend summers in Minnesota.
Nuts and Bolts
C Valtteri Filppula returned to the lineup after missing one game with a lower body injury. ...C Tom Pyatt and D J-P Cote were scratched. ... Tampa Bay’s streak of 12 consecutive penalty kills ended on Minnesota’s first power play chance. ... Lightning goaltending prospect Adam Wilcox, who plays for top ranked University of Minnesota, was at Tuesday’s game.