Very few players have been able to lift a team with just their presence. Last night, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos did just that and more.
Stamkos scored on his third shift and his very first shot of the game. The goal gave the Bolts an early 2-0 lead, 6:58 into the first period, and penciled Stamkos’ name into Stanley Cup Final lore.
The Lightning defeated the Stars 5-2 to take a 2-1 series lead. Stamkos became the first player since 1940 to score a goal while making his first postseason appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
The 30-year-old face of the franchise worked his way back to NHL ice for 211 days. Stamkos endured surgery on March 2 to repair a core muscle, which was expected to sideline him for six-to-eight weeks, He re-aggravated the injury during Phase 2 voluntary workouts with the team over the summer. He had at least one setback that we know of.
Stamkos had not scored in a Stanley Cup Final, His only other Finals’ appearance was a six-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. He only had one assist in that series.
“It was just an amazing experience to share with my teammates,” Stamkos said. “There’s been a lot of hard work and different things going on behind the scenes. Just to be able to get out in a game and have an impact in a game which a month ago may have never been possible. It was amazing to be part of a huge win for us. I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”
“Obviously there is an issue that I’ve been working through,” Stamkos said. “We’ll see what happens from here, but I was just extremely happy to be out there with these guys and have a chance to just be on the bench and contribute to a win. We’ve got a lot more hockey left in this series. We’re focusing on the next game.”
“He only had five shifts, but probably as efficient a five shifts as you’re ever going to see in a National Hockey League playoff game,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “… Here we are watching a player come back, and then do what he did on the biggest stage at the biggest time of year … you have to marvel at it, and it was pretty damn cool.”
“He’s been working so hard to come back,” Tampa Bay defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Stamkos. “He hasn’t given up. It’s just a true testament to him as a player and as a person, and it’s the reason why he wears the C on his jersey.”
🎥 Kucherov, Hedman, & Stamkos on the return of 91 impacting the team, focusing on the ultimate goal over personal achievements, and Steven's thoughts on re-joining the team on the ice. #TBLvsDAL pic.twitter.com/yfNgDqAtYh
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) September 24, 2020
“He’s worked extremely hard to get back to a spot where he could play,” teammate Brayden Point said. “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.”
It’s tough to pick just one thing, he’s such a good influence in the room and on the ice. – Victor Hedman pic.twitter.com/564hYLx23P
— NHL (@NHL) September 24, 2020
“‘Stammer’ obviously he’s our leader, he’s our captain,” Tampa Bay forward Anthony Cirelli said. “To have him with us there, you give Stammer one opportunity he’s going to make it count. Just having him there with us, the emotion was high, he got that goal there for us which was a huge, huge goal and … we fed off that.”
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) September 24, 2020
“We knew it was going to be tricky to try to get into a game. It’s been such a long time,” the future Hall of Famer said. “At this time of the year, you want to do everything you can to help your team win. I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be a part of it tonight it was a dream come true.”