Light­ning get spark from Stamkos

CAP­TAIN SCORES BE­FORE LEAV­ING WITH IN­JURY

Lethbridge Herald - - Herald Sport - Stephen Whyno THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS — ED­MON­TON

Steven Stamkos scored on his first shot since Fe­bru­ary, left with in­jury and the Tampa Bay Light­ning kept dom­i­nat­ing with­out him, blow­ing the Dal­las Stars out of an empty arena with a 5-2 rout in Game 3 of the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal on Wed­nes­day night to take the lead in the se­ries.

Even though he only skated five shifts for 2:47, the Light­ning cap­tain mak­ing his 2020 play­off de­but 211 days af­ter he last played in an NHL game gave the Light­ning a jolt. He made the most of that time with a vintage Stamkos goal go­ing around Esa Lin­dell and snip­ing a shot past An­ton Khu­dobin.

Stamkos rev­eled in mak­ing an im­pact in a game, some­thing he thought wasn’t pos­si­ble a month ago.

“You want to have a say and you want to con­trib­ute,” Stamkos said. “To be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true.”

Stamkos skated off gin­gerly at the end of his fi­nal shift in the first pe­riod and was not on the bench for the start of the sec­ond. He re­turned to the bench and took a few twirls to test out the in­jury but did not re­turn.

The Light­ning were just fine with Stamkos of­fer­ing moral sup­port sit­ting in the mid­dle of the bench.

They got goals from all three of their first-line for­wards, their top de­fence­man and their cap­tain and big saves from their Vezina Tro­phy fi­nal­ist goal­tender, while the Stars’ best play­ers were quiet once again or made big mis­takes to con­trib­ute to the loss. Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos, Vic­tor Hed­man, Bray­den Point and On­drej Palat all scored for Tampa Bay, which was the bet­ter team from the start of the sec­ond pe­riod on.

“They made two good shots early,” Stars cap­tain Jamie Benn said. “They cap­i­tal­ized on their chances and we didn’t.”

Khu­dobin was un­der pres­sure most of the night and al­lowed five goals on 29 shots be­fore coach Rick Bow­ness re­placed him at the start of the third with rookie Jake Oet­tinger. At the other end, An­drei Vasilevski­y made a few big saves among his 31, in­clud­ing a bril­liant left pad stop on Corey Perry early in the game.

The game was ev­ery­thing that has made Tampa Bay one of the best teams in hockey for more than half of the last decade. That in­cluded the re­turn of Stamkos, the Light­ning’s leader who has been forced to watch while re­hab­bing a core mus­cle in­jury.

“He’s a threat, so he’s just an­other thing for a team to think about when he’s out there,” coach Jon Cooper said Wed­nes­day morn­ing. “Whether that’s on the power play or 5-on-5, you get an­other player that the puck gets on his stick in the of­fen­sive zone, it might go in the net — es­pe­cially in a se­ries where goals are at a pre­mium.”

Stamkos, who last played Feb. 25, had surgery in early March and ag­gra­vated the in­jury at least once over the sum­mer, showed that on his goal. As soon as team­mates saw Stamkos scored, the bench erupted into a spon­ta­neous cel­e­bra­tion per­haps un­like any goal dur­ing the play­offs.

Cana­dian Press photo

Dal­las Stars right wing Alexan­der Radulov (47) checks Tampa Bay Light­ning cen­tre An­thony Cirelli dur­ing sec­ond pe­riod NHL Stan­ley Cup finals ac­tion in Ed­mon­ton on Wed­nes­day.

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