EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Steven Stamkos scored on his first shot since February, and the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the Dallas Stars 2-1 after one period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night.
The Lightning captain is making his 2020 playoff debut 211 days after last playing an NHL game. It’s a return that has the potential to change the course of the series that’s currently tied.
Stamkos last played Feb. 25. He had surgery in early March to repair a core muscle injury and aggravated it during informal workouts over the summer.
It seemed like Stamkos was on the verge of returning at the start of the postseason but may have had another setback. Asked Wednesday morning about Stamkos, coach Jon Cooper said only, “He’s inching closer.”
Lightning players celebrated his return in the tunnel before warmups and went crazy on the bench after he scored a vintage Stamkos goal. He went around Esa Lindell and sniped a shot past Anton Khudobin to make it 2-0.
After a Game 2 in which the Lightning looked more like themselves, the return of Stamkos gave them another spark. Minutes after top defenseman Victor Hedman prevented a breakaway goal by speedy Stars forward Denis Gurianov, Nikita Kucherov took advantage of a brutal turnover by 21-year-old budding star Miro Heiskanen and scored on a breakaway of his own.
By the time the Stamkos buzz settled down, another giveaway allowed Dallas to cut its deficit in half. With Tampa Bay on the power play, reliable winger Ondrej Palat committed a rare turnover under pressure by Jason Dickinson, and Dickinson scored off a pass out of the corner by Roope Hintz.
Nikita Kucherov scored Tampa Bay’s first goal on a breakaway minutes after Victor Hedman prevented a Dallas breakaway goal. to set off a raucous celebration on the Lightning bench. Jason Dickinson scored a short-handed goal to cut the Stars’ deficit to 2-1.
The Stars controlled much of the play from that point on and outshot the Lightning 2-1 in the first period.
Stamkos was on a 15-game point streak when he went out of the lineup. He started this game on the fourth line with Pat Maroon and Cedric Paquette but could move up quickly if he keeps playing this well and scoring.
While Tampa Bay got a significant talent back, Dallas was without a key veteran role player. Forward Blake Comeau was ruled unfit to play after appearing to injure his right shoulder on a hit by Ryan McDonagh in Game 2.
Nick Caamano made his NHL playoff debut in Comeau’s place. He also last played — in the minors — 196 days ago.
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