Lightning hopeful Steven Stamkos won’t be out long term

TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper was cautiously optimistic about Steven Stamkos’ injury Saturday afternoon, saying he’s hopeful the team captain isn’t out long term and that he can return shortly after the Lightning return home from their current road trip, which ends Tuesday night.

Stamkos won’t play in tonight’s game in Nashville and is considered doubtful for Tuesday’s road game against the Predators, Cooper said.

Stamkos’ injury became apparent in a non-contact situation in the third period of Thursday’s win in Columbus. He hunched over in discomfort after a back-handed pass up ice and skated off and into the dressing room.

“We’re hopeful he’s gonna be back here soon,” Cooper said. “A lot of this is precaution, too. When you’re on the road it’s a little bit different than being at home and so we’re just taking this slowly and hopefully it will all be good by time we get back to Tampa.”

The Lightning haven’t released any further details on Stamkos’ injury, and asked Saturday whether it could be related to the core muscle issues that prompted two surgeries since last March, Cooper said, “I can only tell you what I know and I’m looking for the guys here that are playing. He’s not. He’s getting checked out.”

Stamkos is the Lightning’s leading scorer with 17 goals, with a team-high 10 on the power play.

With Stamkos out, forward Gemel Smith filled his spot on the roster. Smith…

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