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Oliver Wahlstrom close to return, but no guarantee to get back in Islanders' lineup against Lightning

Oliver Wahlstrom of the Islanders warms up before

Oliver Wahlstrom of the Islanders warms up before a game against the Sabres at Nassau Coliseum on March 7. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Rookie forward Oliver Wahlstrom skated with the Islanders at practice Saturday and is "getting very close to be available,’’ according to Islanders coach Barry Trotz, but he added that Wahlstrom may not step right back into the lineup as soon as he is ready.

Travis Zajac, the veteran former New Jersey Devil who took Wahlstrom’s place after Wahlstrom was injured in Game 5 of the Isles’ first round series against Pittsburgh, has played well. Zajac takes some faceoffs, and scored the game’s first goal in the Islanders’ second-round series-clinching, 6-2 win over Boston in Game 6 Wednesday.

"Right now, if Wally were healthy, there's no guarantee he gets back in the lineup right away,’’ Trotz said. "It may be based on play, and based on what Tampa is trying to match up, and the results that we get.

"Right now, I'm pretty happy with our group, and Wally included,’’ he said. "It will be a tough decision.’’

Trotz said everyone on the current roster made the trip to Tampa.

Kucherov move defended

Tampa Bay GM Julien BriseBois on Saturday defended the move to place star forward Nikita Kucherov and his $9.5 million cap hit on long term injured reserve for the entire regular season — allowing the Lightning to be salary cap compliant — and get him back just in time for Game 1 of the playoffs.

"When all of the decisions were made to know that Nikita needed [hip] surgery… I didn’t know how things would unfold,’’ BriseBois told reporters in Tampa. "Luckily for me and our organization, I don’t think they could have unfolded any better.’’

Kucherov enters the series against the Islanders as the leading scorer in the playoffs, with five goals and 13 assists in 11 games. After the Lightning ousted the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, Hurricanes D Dougie Hamilton said, "We lost to a team that’s $18 million over the salary cap, or whatever they are.’’

"I didn’t do it on purpose, obviously,’’ Kucherov said. "I had to do the surgery. I had to go through the whole five months of rehabilitation. And when the time came [that] I was ready to play, it was the playoffs.’’

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