Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final saw the long-awaited return of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. In true storybook fashion, Stamkos scored on his first shot, and his team overwhelmed the Dallas Stars en route to a 5-2 victory. Tampa Bay now leads the series two games to one.
Stamkos’s Short But Effective Game 3 Performance
He made an immediate impact with a goal, but Stamkos only played 2:47 before he was forced to spend the rest of the game on the bench, as lead cheerleader. The Lightning captain, and arguably greatest player in franchise history, has missed the last 7 months due to a core injury which would have ended his season had it not been for the COVID-19 pause in the NHL. He had multiple conversations with both of the Lightning’s athletic trainers on the bench and sat out the final 6:18 of the first period. Stamkos did not come out of intermission with the team at the start of the second period.
He returned to the bench about eight minutes into the period, but stayed there. Stamkos did the same thing back in November. He got hurt early in a win over Chicago, but remained on the bench in case the team really needed him. Stamkos had surgery to repair a core muscle on March 2 and was supposed to miss six to eight weeks, but incurred multiple setbacks in his recovery.
“There’s been a lot of hard work and different things going on behind the scenes. 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”, Stamkos said. “I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”
Where Does Stamkos And The Series Go From Here
The inspired start was all the boost the Lightning needed in a pivotal game three. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead after Stamkos’s goal, which ballooned to 5-1 before the Stars scored a consolation goal in the third period. 5-2 was the final score giving the Lightning their first lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. Stamkos’s status for game 4 remains up in the air, but there is no denying his presence alone gives his Lightning a massive boost.
Stars goalie Anton Khudobin was pulled in game three after a rough performance. Khudobin has been the anchor to the Stars since he was inserted in the series against the Avalanche. He single handedly carried them through the Western Conference Finals against the Vegas Golden Knights. He is a key figure for the Stars who are built around defense and forechecking. They will need big performances out of him the rest of the way.
Defenseman John Klingberg said the Stars have to play better in front of Khudobin. “He’s been playing his best hockey. Obviously we want to let him do that. Tonight we made some errors. It’s hockey,” he said. “It’s 2-1. They’re up one. We’re going to even the series on Friday.”
We expect Khudobin to be back between the pipes Friday night when the puck drops for game four. Tampa Bay has been the better team for the majority of the series, despite the Stars stealing game 1. Game four will be pivotal for the Stars to stay in this series. A 3-1 deficit would seem insurmountable against a high caliber Lightning team.