Steven Stamkos did not play for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-4 overtime win against the Dallas Stars in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday.
Kevin Shattenkirk scored 6:34 into overtime to put the Lightning one win from the Stanley Cup. Game 5 of the best-of-7 series is Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Stamkos scored in the first period in his return from injury, a 5-2 win against the Stars in Game 3 in Edmonton, the hub city for the Cup Final, on Wednesday.
The forward, who had not played since Feb. 25, scored 6:58 into the game to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. After being sidelined by a lower-body injury, he played five shifts for 2:47, leaving the game with 6:18 left in the first period.
“It was just an amazing experience to share with my teammates,” Stamkos said after the game. “There’s been a lot of hard work and different things going on behind the scenes. Just to be able to get out in a game and have an impact in a game which a month ago may have never been possible. It was amazing to be part of a huge win for us. I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.
“Obviously there is an issue that I’ve been working through. We’ll see what happens from here, but I was just extremely happy to be out there with these guys and have a chance to just be on the bench and contribute to a win. We’ve got a lot more hockey left in this series. We’re focusing on the next game.”
As part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, a team is not permitted to disclose player injury or illness information.
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Stamkos had surgery to repair a core muscle injury March 2 and missed Tampa Bay’s final seven games before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He was second on the Lightning with 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) in 57 games, behind forward Nikita Kucherov (85 points; 33 goals, 52 assists).
“He only had five shifts, but probably as efficient a five shifts as you’re ever going to see in a National Hockey League playoff game,” Cooper said of Stamkos. “… Here we are watching a player come back, and then do what he did on the biggest stage at the biggest time of year … you have to marvel at it, and it was pretty damn cool.”
Video: TBL@DAL, Gm3: Stamkos set to return for Lightning
Stamkos resumed skating and was a regular participant in optional practices and morning skates this week, including an optional practice Tuesday. He’d been unfit to play throughout the postseason with an injury sustained before training camp began July 13. Stamkos participated in drills with the top power-play unit during camp but did not take part in a full practice until after the Lightning arrived in Toronto, the hub city for the Eastern Conference through the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, on July 26.
“He’s been working so hard to come back,” Shattenkirk said of Stamkos. “He hasn’t given up. It’s just a true testament to him as a player and as a person, and it’s the reason why he wears the C on his jersey.”
Stamkos, skating up the right-wing boards, avoided a check by Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell and scored against goalie Anton Khudobin with a high shot to the far side from the bottom of the right face-off circle. Stamkos is the second player in NHL history to score when playing his first game of that postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. Billy Taylor Sr. also did so for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940 Final against the New York Rangers.
“[Stamkos], obviously he’s our leader, he’s our captain,” Lightning center Anthony Cirelli said. “To have him with us there, you give [him] one opportunity, he’s going to make it count. Just having him there with us, the emotion was high, he got that goal there for us which was a huge, huge goal and … we fed off that.”
Stamkos’ return was similar to the one he made during the 2016 playoffs. He missed eight weeks that season recovering from surgery to clear a blood clot near his right collarbone before returning against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, playing 11:55 in a 2-1 loss.
“We knew it was going to be tricky to try to get into a game. It’s been such a long time,” Stamkos said. “At this time of the year, you want to do everything you can to help your team win. I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be a part of it tonight it was a dream come true.”
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