Light­ning strike fast, of­ten in win

Santa Fe New Mexican - - SPORTS -

EDMONTON, Al­berta — As soon as Steven Stamkos scored on his first shot since Fe­bru­ary, his Tampa Bay Light­ning cel­e­brated on the ice and the bench with 211 days of pent up ex­cite­ment. Even af­ter Stamkos left with in­jury, they didn’t let up and dom­i­nated 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 long­time Light­ning cap­tain mak­ing his 2020 play­off de­but 211 days af­ter he last played in an NHL game gave the Light­ning a jolt.

“Just to be able to get out into a game and have an im­pact on a game, which a month ago may have never been pos­si­ble” a smil­ing Stamkos said. “It’s been such a long time. At this time of the year, you want to do any­thing you can to help your team win. I’ve watched these guys be so com­mit­ted to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true.”

Stamkos made the most of lim­ited ice time, scor­ing a vin­tage goal go­ing around Esa Lin­dell and snip­ing a shot past An­ton Khu­dobin. De­fense­man Vic­tor Hed­man, who fed the puck to Stamkos, lost track of it un­til he saw it in the back of the net.

The Light­ning the bench broke into a spon­ta­neous cel­e­bra­tion per­haps un­like any goal dur­ing the play­offs.

“I think that the cheer was just a lit­tle bit louder,” coach Jon Cooper said.

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. Just his present meant so much.

“Un­ex­pected, but just the lift he gave us A) be­ing able to dress and play and B) scor­ing, I don’t think the guys were go­ing to be de­nied,” Cooper said.

That’s be­cause the Light­ning got goals from all three of their first-line for­wards, their top de­fense­man and their cap­tain and big saves from their Vez­ina Tro­phy fi­nal­ist goal­tender.

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