The Tampa Bay Lightning made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final with Steven Stamkos on the sidelines. They’re a strong enough team that they don’t necessarily need him to beat the Dallas Stars – but it sure would make their job a lot easier if they had the elite forward in the lineup.
Tampa Bay was reminded of that last night when they got just a glimmer of Stamkos. He was in the lineup on Wednesday for the first time since Feb. 25 and he quickly made his presence felt when he scored at 6:58 of the first period to give the Lightning at 2-0 lead. He ended up logging just 2:47 minutes in the first period though and he didn’t come out for the start of the second. Eventually he did return to the bench, but he never took another shift and after the game he wasn’t sure if he would be available for Game 4.
The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t the only team who might not be at full strength though. Putting aside that the Stars have been without Ben Bishop, Radek Faksa, and Stephen Johns throughout this series, Dallas saw forwards Alexander Radulov and Denis Gurianov get hurt in the third period of Game 3. It remains to be seen if either of them will be available going forward, but missing one or both of them would be a huge blow to the Stars’ offense. The duo is tied for fourth place in Dallas’ playoff scoring race.
Injuries aside, this was a decisive win for the Lightning. The Stars actually managed to out shot the Lightning 16-8 in the first period, but Tampa Bay still led 2-1 going into the intermission. The second frame was completely one sided with the Lightning taking a staggering 21-4 edge in shots and finished the period with a 5-1 lead. Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen scored in the third period, but it was too little, too late.
That puts the pressure on Dallas to answer back on Friday or be pushed to the brink of elimination. For what it’s worth, this isn’t uncharted territory for the Stars this year. They were down 2-1 in their first round series against Calgary before rallying back to a 4-2 series victory. Dallas certainly is a dangerous enough team to do it against Tampa Bay too.
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TAMPA BAY 5 DALLAS 2 (Lightning lead series 2-1)
Victor Hedman scored the game-winning goal and registered two assists. He’s up to 10 goals and 20 points in 22 playoff contests.
Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay. That gives him seven goals and 30 points in 22 postseason games. Since the start of the salary cap era, Kucherov is just the sixth player to reach the 30-point milestone in a single playoff run. The point leader for a single playoff run in the salary cap era is Evgeni Malkin, who had 36 points back in 2008-09.
Jason Dickinson scored a shorthanded goal for the Stars. It was his second goal and fourth point in 24 playoff games.
At the other end of the ice, Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 22 of 24 shots. He’s allowed just seven goals in three games in the Stanley Cup Final.