Lightning captain Stamkos healthy, confident for rest of playoff series
WASHINGTON — Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was alone in the left circle during the first period of Tuesday night’s Game 3 when he collected a pass from defenseman Victor Hedman and rocketed a one-timer past Washington Capitals’ defender Matt Niskanen and goalie Braden Holtby to give the Lighting a 1-0 lead.
It was perfectly executed — an unstoppable, momentum-changing shot.
With Tampa facing a potential 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference finals, the Lightning needed a jolt — and it came in the form of an early goal by its captain. The Lightning rode that flash of energy from Stamkos’s power-play goal for the remainder of Game 3, en route to a 4-2 victory at Capital One Arena.
“When he shoots it like that — he’s done it for so long and scored so many goals from there — I think it is hard to cover him,” Tampa forward J.T. Miller said. “You have Kuch [Nikita Kucherov] on the other side of him doing the same thing for the most part so it is definitely a threat our power play possess.”
The Capitals led the series 2-1 going into Thursday night’s Game 4 that will have major implications for both teams in the series. For the Lightning to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole, it will need players like Stamkos, and Kucherov, to continue providing plays like Tuesday’s.
“Think of Kucherov and Stamkos, those guys leading the charge, when we’ve needed them in the big games,” Tampa Coach Jon Cooper said. “So say Game 4 in the Boston series, Game 4 in the Jersey series, Game 3 in the Washington series, those guys have delivered when we’ve needed them. Often times, that’s what those guys do. They come in when you need them.”
Stamkos has five powerplay goals in 13 playoff games in this postseason, including one in each of the past three games against Washington. He has six total goals and nine assists in these playoffs after scoring 27 goals and 59 assists in the regular season.
Stamkos said he felt like the team had a bit of a chip on its shoulder after last season’s disappointing finish and believed the team had put itself in position for playoff success this year.
“We’ve had this core for a long time now and being so close, losing in the Final [in 2015], everyone had a sense that we’d be a team that would have a chance to win every year,” Stamkos said. “It’s by no means easy to win in this league but when you have a team like we’ve assembled over the years, you want to be part of that and you want to be on a team that has a chance to do well in the playoffs.”