Stamkos is healthy, con­fi­dent and ready to lead the come­back

The Peterborough Examiner - - Sports - SA­MAN­THA PELL The Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON — Tampa Bay Light­ning cap­tain Steven Stamkos was alone in the left face­off cir­cle Tues­day night.

He col­lected a pass from de­fence­man 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 Jonathan (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 still lead the se­ries 2-1; Thurs­day’s Game 4 was to have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for both teams in the se­ries.

For the Light­ning to avoid fall­ing into a 3-1 hole, it needed 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 power-play goals in 13 play­off games in this post-sea­son, 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. It was a bounce­back per­for­mance for the vet­eran player, af­ter miss­ing nearly all of the 2016-17 campaign due to in­jury.

Stamkos went down with a torn lat­eral menis­cus in his right knee in Novem­ber 2016 and was ruled out in­def­i­nitely. Tampa

Bay strug­gled in his ab­sence and nar­rowly missed the play­offs, fin­ish­ing with 94 points. The six-foot-one, 194-pound cen­tre, who chose to re-sign with the Light­ning in June 2016, had been off to a fast start, col­lect­ing nine goals and 11 as­sists in 17 games be­fore the in­jury.

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 ... 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.”

Steven Stamkos

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