Paquette returns to Lightning lineup vs. Predators

Tampa Bay Lightning center Cedric Paquette has 12 goals and 19 points in 56 games this season.

Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. — After missing six games with an upper-body injury, center Cedric Paquette is set to return to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Paquette made the announcement after morning skate at Amalie Arena, before the Lightning close a six-game homestand against the Nashville Predators, and he said his comfort has improved enough to the point where his gritty presence can be felt on the ice once more.

"I feel good on the ice," said Paquette, who has 12 goals and 19 points in 56 games this season. "I don’t feel anything wrong right now. So hopefully, I’ll keep feeling that way."

Paquette, 21, sustained the injury in a victory over the Montreal Canadiens on March 10 at the Bell Centre. Center Vladislav Namestnikov has fared well in Paquette’s absence with two goals and four points. Coach Jon Cooper said Namestnikov will remain with the Lightning through Thursday’s game and on a wait-and-see basis after that.

"As I’m sitting here evaluating our team, and I’m watching Namestnikov play, it’s really hard to put him out of the lineup right now," Cooper said. "The next question is like, well, who would you pull out of the lineup? My follow-up to that is, ‘I don’t know.’ But that’s a good sign with your team when those decisions are really difficult. And I think when you start getting close to the postseason, and into the postseason, they’re tough ones to make."

Namestnikov, who has six goals and 12 points in 35 games this season, said he has gained confidence with his recent play. He said Paquette’s improved health is a positive development for Tampa Bay, which enters the matchup against Nashville one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the Atlantic Division lead. The Lightning can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as early as Thursday night.

"He’s a great player," Namestnikov said of Paquette. "He’s awesome on the penalty kill. He’s just a great defensive player overall. It’s a huge addition."

Paquette said the plan was to have him return either Tuesday against the Florida Panthers or Thursday. He said the more cautious option was selected with long-term benefits in mind.

"That’s why I waited a little bit longer, to be sure to be ready for the playoffs," Paquette said. "Hopefully, I don’t get injured for the playoffs."

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