EDMONTON, AB – As soon as Steven Stamkos scored on his first shot since February, his Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated on the ice and the bench with 211 days of pent up excitement.
Even after Stamkos left with injury, they didn't let up and dominated without him, blowing the Dallas Stars out of an empty arena with a 5-2 rout in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night to take the lead in the series. Even though he only skated five shifts for 2:47, the longtime Lightning captain making his 2020 playoff debut 211 days after he last played in an NHL game gave the Lightning a jolt.
“Just to be able to get out into a game and have an impact on a game, which a month ago may have never been possible” a smiling Stamkos said. “It’s been such a long time. At this time of the year, you want to do anything you can to help your team win. I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true.”
Stamkos made the most of limited ice time, scoring a vintage goal going around Esa Lindell and sniping a shot past Anton Khudobin. Defenseman Victor Hedman, who fed the puck to Stamkos, lost track of it until he saw it in the back of the net.
The Lightning the bench broke into a spontaneous celebration perhaps unlike any goal during the playoffs.
“I think that the cheer was just a little bit louder,” coach Jon Cooper said.
Stamkos skated off gingerly at the end of his final shift in the first period and was not on the bench for the start of the second. He returned to the bench and took a few twirls to test out the injury but did not return.
The Lightning were just fine with Stamkos offering moral support sitting in the middle of the bench. Just his present meant so much.