By remaining with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos could be hoisting Lord Stanley’s Trophy in the very near future.
Make no mistake about it that Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos is one of the brightest stars in the National Hockey League. Stamkos is a three-time NHL All-Star and at the age of 25, the future looks bright for this native of Markham, Ontario. Stamkos is a tremendous goal scorer as he already has two seasons in which he has scored at least 50 goals. And as good as Stamkos has been, more people would know about him if he played in a bigger market. But that could all change this week.
Led by Stamkos, the Lightning are set to make just their second appearance in the Stanley Cup Final as they are gearing up to face the Chicago Blackhawks who are going for their third Stanley Cup Championship since 2010. As a team, the Lightning have spent this postseason knocking off the blue bloods of the National Hockey League as they’ve defeated three Original Six teams in the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers en route to winning the Eastern Conference Title. And the Lightning will meet another Original Six team in the Blackhawks. But led by Stamkos, it has been a total team effort for the Lightning.
In this postseason Stamkos has scored 7 goals, but his scoring ability has been setting up teammates as he also has 10 assists where teammates Valtteri Filppula and Alex Killorn have been the beneficiaries on his line. And Stamkos’ ability to score and pass will be vital in the Stanley Cup Final as the Blackhawks are a team of stars that are led by center Jonathan Toews, right winger Patrick Kane, and defenseman Duncan Keith just to name a few. Stamkos has rebounded from the broken leg that put a dent into his 2013-2014 NHL season while also robbing him of the chance to play for Canada in the 2014 Olympics to now closing in on being a part of the first Lightning team to hoist the Stanley Cup since 2004 to hoist the Stanley Cup. And if the Lightning are able to knock off the favored Blackhawks, Stamkos won’t just be a popular figure in Tampa as he’ll truly become a household name in both Canada and America.
This spring has shaped up to be totally different than last spring for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last season was just the third time in the franchise history of the Lightning that they tallied more than 100 points. But in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in spite of the fact that they had home-ice advantage. The Lightning would once again enjoy a strong regular season this time around as they tallied a franchise best 108 points. The Lightning would once again qualify for the postseason and in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they met the always tough Detroit Red Wings who were making their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.
The Lightning dropped Game 1 at home by the score of 3-2 and it appeared to be deja vu in Tampa. But the Lightning rebounded in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1. After swapping victories in Detroit, the Lightning would return home for Game 5 where they were shutout 4-0 and booed off of the ice by their fans. The Lightning would then pull off the impossible as they went to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for Game 6 where they won 5-2. The Lightning would return home for Game 7 where they would shutout the Wings 2-0 and advance to the second round where they would meet the same Canadiens who swept them out of the playoffs last season.
The Lightning were able to go to the Bell Centre in Montreal and outscore the Canadiens 8-2 in the first two games to take a 2-0 series lead. The Lightning would hold off the Canadiens to win in six games and they are heading to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2011.
As always there are plenty of eyes on Lightning center Steven Stamkos who is the team’s biggest scoring threat. Only two players have scored more goals than Stamkos while wearing a Lightning uniform as he is always a threat to light the lamp. But so far during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it has been the passing of Stamkos that is propelling the Lightning. In 13 playoff games this spring, Stamkos has only scored 3 goals, but he is leading the club with 7 assists. Center Tyler Johnson has been the Lightning’s top goal scorer in the postseason as he scored 7 of his 8 postseason goals in the Lightning’s first round series victory over the Red Wings. And if you’re going to advance in the postseason like the Lightning have, you’ll need to have a strong net minder.
Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has risen to the occasion when the chips have been pushed to the middle of the table. After surrendering 3 goals in the Lightning’s Game 5 loss to the Red Wings, Bishop only gave up a pair of goals over the final two games of the series; including a shutout in Game 7. In the series clinching victory over Montreal, only one goal slipped by Bishop as he is playing his best hockey of the year.
For Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, his club is clicking at the right time as they haven’t slowed down after a very strong regular season. And as the Lightning are preparing to face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, they know that they’ll meet a team with a workman like approach. The Lightning will also have a star goalie to contend with in Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers will be third straight team that the Lightning will face this postseason that is an Original Six club with a long and storied history. And as the Lightning have been knocking off traditional National Hockey League powers, they are out to write their own history. The Lightning became a team of destiny when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and they want to bring it to West Florida once more as they’re out to make Tampa a hockey town.
Fifteen months ago wasn’t a good time to be Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos. Stamkos suffered a broken tibia last November in a game against the Boston Bruins. The injury kept Stamkos out of action for four months and it also denied him the opportunity to play for his native Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Stamkos was able to return to the Lightning last March and help them in their push towards the postseason, but Tampa Bay would be swept there by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the National Hockey League Playoffs. For Stamkos, he hasn’t let any of that carry over to this season.
Stamkos has reclaimed his spot as one of the top goal scorers in the NHL and the Lightning are benefiting from this as they have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Stamkos has appeared in all 51 games this season for the Lightning while he is fourth in the NHL in goals (27), and 12th in points (46). Last month Stamkos was named to his fifth National Hockey League All-Star Game and at 24-years of age the hockey world appears to be his oyster.
Stamkos is still a youngster, but it feels as if he has been around in the NHL for quite some being that the Lightning made him the first overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft. It didn’t take Stamkos that long to assert himself and join right winger Martin St. Louis as one of the faces of the Lightning franchise. In Stamkos’ second year in the NHL, he won his first of two Maurice “Rocket” Richard Awards as the top goal scorer in the league. And when St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers last season, more of the onus was put upon Stamkos to carry the Lightning and he has continued to answer the bell.
Stamkos has produced points 32 of the Lightning’s 51 games this season and if Tampa Bay is going to advance past the first round of the NHL Playoffs this spring for the first time since 2011, he’ll have a big hand in it. Stamkos is that rare breed that has the ability to score and make those around him better. Stamkos is also seeking a contract extension from the Lightning which benefits all parties involved as the team will get the best that the young scorer can give. Prior to the injury Stamkos was one of the best scorers in the NHL and he appears to be right where he was before the incident happened which is right on top of his game.