Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos returned to the ice for Game Three of his club’s Stanley Cup Final series against the Dallas Stars and promptly scored a goal.
The Lightning routed the Stars Thursday and you could say, if you were so inclined, that it was Stamkos’ presence that bolstered such a dominant result.
The captain, after sitting out as a practice-only player in the bubble and being out of action since February 25, doubled up on his team’s lead in the first period and more than contributed to the 5-2 final at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Tampa now holds a 2-1 series lead.
Stamkos skated just 2:47 in the contest, all in the first period, and seemed to potentially – maybe – reaggravate something. Frustration was etched on his face when he went down the tunnel and he did not return to the bench until a good while had ticked off the clock in the second period. He stayed on the bench for all of the third period.
“I wanted to play as much as I could. Obviously, there’s an issue that I’ve been working through. We’ll see what happens from here,” Stamkos said after the game.
It was the stuff of hockey lore, with the captain only able to skate five shifts but still finding twine.
But the story might be deeper, particularly if that return really did reaggravate an injury.
Stamkos had core muscle surgery on March 2 and was supposed to be back in time for the playoffs, had the playoffs taken place at their regularly-scheduled time. But COVID-19 happened and things got pushed back, which opened the window for Stammer to return. He was ready to return, but there was another setback. And then, presumably, another one.
Stamkos has had to watch as the Lightning bolted their way into the Final against Dallas and you have to feel for the guy.
“He’s worked extremely hard to get back to a spot where he could play,” said Brayden Point. “Just seeing him day in and day out — the positivity that he brings, and the leadership that he brings. It’s nice to see him work that hard to get back into the lineup. And then to score one? It’s pretty inspirational for everyone.”
There’s no doubt his appearance in Game Three will go down as a boost for the Lightning and that may propel them to win the whole deal. You can’t quantify that kind of inspiration and no amount of advanced analytics or quantitative evaluation will illustrate what Stamkos’ leadership can do.
Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat had the other goals for Tampa, while Jason Dickinson and Miro Heiskanen scored for the Stars.
Game Four of the Stanley Cup Final takes place Friday. There’s no word on Stamkos’ status for that contest.