Light­ning cap­tain Stamkos healthy, con­fi­dent for rest of play­off se­ries

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NHL - By Sa­man­tha Pell

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.”

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