Marco Sturm back on the ice

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Don't get too excited because Boston Bruins forward Marco Sturm skated Tuesday for the first time since he suffered a knee injury last spring that required surgery.

Bruins coach Claude Julien called Sturm's 30-minute morning twirl at Ristuccia Arena a "leisurely skate" and said the team won't know how much longer Sturm will be sidelined until his on-ice rehab is increased and he's pushed physically.

"He's a long ways away," Julien said. "I can't even think about [a possible return] right now because he's so far away. He just stepped on the ice today after being out [five months], so let's give him a break here and let him find his way before we can even think about where we're going to put him."

Just the fact Sturm, who tore his medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments, was able to lace up the skates is a positive sign.

"He finally gets to skate, and I'm sure he's as excited as anybody to get back on skates," Julien said. "It's been a long journey, to say the least."

Sturm, who suffered the injury in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers, said he felt no pain or discomfort while skating Tuesday morning. He did say his right leg feels weak, but that's expected.

"It was good. It was better than I expected," Sturm said. "I'm just going to start rolling now and try to skate almost every day now and then we'll see."

Sturm and the Bruins won't put any timetable on a possible return, because there's still no way of knowing how his knee will respond with increased work on the ice. At this point, there's no best-case scenario.

"I don't know," Sturm said. "The knee is going to let me know how things are going. Right now it's just getting used to the ice again and get stronger again. I still know I'm not that strong, yet, so there's still time to go. I was really happy to be back on the ice today."

Sturm originally thought he would be back on the ice sooner, but he had fluid in his knee, and believes traveling to Europe had something to do with that. He wanted to go on the Bruins' recent trek through Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the Czech Republic to open the 2010-11 season, but it didn't help his rehab and he said it set him back a couple of weeks.

He'll continue to skate on his own for the next two weeks. Off the ice, he's been able to run and sprint. His body weight and upper-body strength is the same as when he suffered the injury last spring. Now, it's just a matter of building up the strength in his legs.

"I'm able to do pretty much everything I do when I'm healthy," he said. "I just need to go step by step and push a little bit harder every week."

His teammates were encouraged to see him on the ice because they know he'll be an asset once he's able to return to the lineup.

"It's always nice to see guys coming back from injuries, especially a guy like Marco," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "It's been a long process for him to come back, but he's handled it very well and he's worked hard."

Chara called Sturm "mentally strong" because this is the second time in the last two seasons he's been through rehab from knee surgery. He was limited to only 19 games in the early part of the 2008-09 season because he suffered a similar injury to his left knee that required season-ending surgery.

At least Sturm knows what to expect this time around.

"It takes time and I just have to be patient," he said.

When he does return, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli will have to get creative with the club's salary cap. If Sturm, and fellow Bruins forward Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) are able to return, Chiarelli will need to clear around $7.5 million in cap space.

Chiarelli is already looking at different options, including the trade market.

The Bruins are off to a solid start this season with a 4-2-0 record and the lineup has been invigorated with the young additions of rookies Jordan Caron and Tyler Seguin. Sturm said it's helped his rehab, knowing the team is in good hands until he returns.

"It's great," he said. "As long as the team is doing really good, everyone is happy and it makes things easier for injured guys like me. We can take our time and get 100 percent, and make sure when you're back you're at full strength."

It's way too early to even think about a possible Bruins lineup with both Sturm and Savard healthy. There are too many unknowns at this point, expect, of course, both are skating on their own.

"It's awesome to see [Sturm] back and hopefully he'll recover 100 percent," Chara said. "We all can't wait to see him back in the lineup."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.