Lightning get spark from Stamkos
CAPTAIN SCORES BEFORE LEAVING WITH INJURY
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.
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.