What can we expect from Steven Stamkos down the stretch?

For Lightning wing Steven Stamkos, his best this season could be yet to come.

Riding a five-game winning streak entering Saturday night’s game against the Kings in Los Angeles, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov were leading the way. The top-line duo has accounted for 11 of Tampa Bay’s 27 goals over that span.

Your best players need to lead the way down the stretch and during the postseason, and Point and Kucherov have certainly done that.

How about the other member of the Lightning’s “big-three” forwards?

Stamkos has had an up-and-down season, but recently has shown signs that he might be ready to break out. The Lightning captain entered Saturday with a season-high, seven-game point streak (three goals, nine assists).

“He’s more confident, definitely when he’s shooting the puck,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Stamkos. “He’s getting some good looks, and his confidence continues to build. But he’s doing all the right things away from the puck. That’s what I’m really happy about.

“A little consistency in his linemates (Brandon Hagel and Anthony Cirelli) here the last few games and he’s with a couple of guys that really work at getting the puck to the spots he’s in, so hopefully it keeps on going.”

Plenty of chances

The looks have been there for Stamkos. According to Natural Stat Trick, he has 206 scoring chances, third on the team behind Point (264) and Kucherov (230).

But Stamkos’ shooting percentage is 13.6, which is lower than last year’s 14.2 mark and his 16.6 career rate. In 5-on-5 play, he’s shooting at just a 9.47% clip, and only 9 of his 27 goals this season have come in 5-on-5.

Albeit a much shorter sample size, over his seven-game point streak his shooting has been in line with the rest of his career. He has three goals on 18 shots, a 16.7 shooting percentage.

Stamkos had scored three goals in the first 15 games coming out of the All-Star break, then notched a power-play goal in the March 14 home win over the Rangers that proved to be the winner, following with a two-goal night last Saturday at Florida.

Against the Panthers, Stamkos scored on the first shift of the game, getting a fortunate bounce as his cross-slot pass attempt went off Florida defenseman Brandon Montour’s skate and into the net. It was his first 5-on-5 goal in 12 games.

“Nothing’s changed, for me anyway, in how I prepare of play,” Stamkos said. “Sometimes things go in. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you get a bounce like I did the first shift (versus the Panthers) and that’s just the way hockey goes. So I haven’t changed anything. The shots have been there, the chances have been there. You want to help your team win, especially at this time of the year.”

Avoiding the line shuffle

The Lightning have played their best when they’ve gotten some continuity in their line combinations, but Stamkos has been on the move often this season, seeing time along each of the team’s top three lines.

The trade deadline acquisition of Anthony Duclair, who has settled in on the top scoring line with Point and Kucherov, has created some stability among the forward lines. And that’s allowed Stamkos to stick more on the second line with Brandon Hagel and Anthony Cirelli, relentless puck hounds who will look to get Stamkos the puck in scoring situations.

“I think Dukes has really added an element to the top six,” Stamkos said. “For whatever reason this year, we’re trying a lot of different line combinations and things like that. So I think that stabilizes the lineup as a whole where we can slot guys in and go out there and play. He brings an element that maybe we didn’t have before and he’s played great.”

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