The Tampa Bay Lightning remain heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup despite captain Steven Stamkos' ongoing issues with a core muscle injury.
Stamkos, who underwent surgery in March, returned for Game 3 and scored a goal in helping the Lightning take a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars. However, coach Jon Cooper ruled Stamkos out of Friday's night's game, with his availability for Game 5 on Saturday night uncertain.
The Lightning were being offered at -501 to win the series and -154 to win Game 4 at SportsBetting.com, which set Friday's night's spread at Tampa Bay -1.5, with the total goals score over/under at 5.5.
The Lightning were +150 at SportsBetting.com to close out the series by Saturday night, +200 to win in six games and +425 to win in seven. The Stars were being offered at +650 to win in seven games and +1200 to reel off three straight victories for a 4-2 series win.
Cooper has not ruled Stamkos out beyond Game 4.
"He's not going to play (Friday), but we haven't ruled him out for the series," Cooper said. "But he's not going to play tonight."
Stamkos, 30, played for the first time since Feb. 25 when he suited up for Game 3 on Wednesday. He had an initial recovery timeline of six to eight weeks, but it's believed he aggravated the injury and experienced at least one setback since then while trying to join the team.
He scored in the first period of the Lightning's 5-2 win in Game 3 - giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 series lead - but then did not return to the bench after the first intermission. He logged 2 minutes, 47 seconds of ice time.
"Obviously, there is an issue that I've been working through. We'll see what happens from here, but I was just extremely happy to be out there with these guys and have a chance to just be on the bench and contribute to a win," Stamkos said after the game.
Despite his limited ice time, Stamkos made a big impact on his team by simply being on the ice -- with the goal an added bonus.
"He only had five shifts, but probably as efficient a five shifts as you're ever going to see in a National Hockey League playoff game," Cooper said. "... Here we are watching a player come back, and then do what he did on the biggest stage at the biggest time of year ... you have to marvel at it, and it was pretty damn cool."
"'Stammer' obviously he's our leader, he's our captain," Tampa Bay forward Anthony Cirelli said. "To have him with us there, you give Stammer one opportunity he's going to make it count. Just having him there with us, the emotion was high, he got that goal there for us which was a huge, huge goal and ... we fed off that."
Stamkos finished second on the team in scoring in the regular season with 66 points in 57 games. His 29 goals were also second on the team.
Taken first overall in 2008, Stamkos has 832 points (422 goals, 410 assists) in 803 regular-season games in his 12-year career, all with the Lightning. He also has 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 71 career playoff games.