TAMPA, Fla. – It was during one of his five first-period shifts in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup final in the Edmonton bubble that Steven Stamkos scored a highlight-reel goal. It was a must-see moment, not because it was quite a shot, but it was his first game action in seven months.
The captain’s cameo was a moment etched in Stanley Cup playoff lore, and helped propel his team to its first of two straight titles.
Thanks to hernia surgery and a restructured league schedule the following season, it was the only action for Stamkos in almost an 11-month period.
Alas, No. 91 has not stopped producing memorable moments. The third-period goal he scored all of 21 seconds after the Rangers had tied Game 6 of this year’s Eastern Conference final, his second of the game in a 2-1 win? Well, as coach Jon Cooper said, Stamkos would find a way credit everybody else. That’s the type of leader he is.
“He will be the first one to push the accolades to everybody else, but he had a hell of series and I think it paid off in Game 6,” said Cooper. “Happy for him and his legacy of the captain of this team.”
Sure enough, Stamkos, who had five goals and two assists in the conference final, was quick to deflect attention.
“It is great to score a couple of goals in a huge game like this,” he said. “If I didn’t score and we won, I would be just as happy. That’s the way the guys are on our team. Each guys plays a part. We know in the room that everybody plays a huge part in our group success. That’s why we have been so successful, because the guys in our room are truly like that.”
It hasn’t always been this good, of course. However, as the 32-year-old Stamkos has grown as a person and a player, it is nice to see that he is deservedly the center of attention.
“Watching Stammer’s growth, and going from the 60-goal scorer (2011-12) and the young guy to the leader, the captain and the guy people are rallying around, he has a lot of weight in his shoulders,” said Cooper. “He has to score, he has to lead, he has to be the face of the franchise, and he has to do all these things. He missed our first Cup run, he missed basically the whole thing. At some point, you want the light to shine on him, and it has in so many different ways. But in an elimination game, to not only score the first (goal), but to answer back 21 seconds after they (score), you’re so proud and you’re proud Stammer got to do it.”
Stamkos has a chance to add to his legacy in another Stanley Cup final that begins Wednesday night (8 p.m. ESPN) in Denver against the Avalanche.
“We are going to have our hands full, for sure,” he said. “It’s no secret they have some electric players. They have an unbelievable mix of veteran presence, star power, grinders and goalie. A huge challenge for us. But we know our group, we know our mindset and we know our abilities and how we have to play.”
The Lightning have met every challenge in winning 11 straight series. With a captain like Stamkos, you just know they will give every last ounce as they attempt to win a third straight Stanley Cup.
“He is a great leader for us,” said Alex Killorn. “We follow him and he has been unbelievable these playoffs.”