CHICAGO – On the day off before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was gracefully, patiently and insightfully answering questions, the same way he does in almost every NHL city and has done throughout the playoffs. At one point, a question was asked to nobody in particular when Lightning teammate Valtteri Filppula turned to Stamkos and said, “Go ahead, you’re on a roll.”
Stamkos, who has been bitten by a snake the size of a giant anaconda, wishes that were only the case on the ice. Should the Chicago Blackhawks prevail and win their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, few people will remember how offensively unproductive Patrick Kane was in this Stanley Cup final. But the memory of Stamkos not scoring – at least that has been the case in the first five games – will probably not be erased so easily.
Stamkos has been putting more pressure on himself to score as the final has progressed and he’s getting some decent chances. After playing an inexplicable 17:17 in the first game of the series despite being the Lightning’s best forward, his ice time has progressively increased to the point where he has received more ice time than any other Lightning forward in the past three games.
But the results have not been there for him. In a series where one goal could have made an enormous difference, Stamkos doesn’t have any. He has only one assist in the Stanley Cup final so far going into the biggest game of his career.
“No doubt I want to help our team win in any way possible,” Stamkos said. “We’ve struggled to score, obviously myself personally, as a team the last couple game. We’ll find a way. There’s really no choice that we have. For me, I definitely want to go out there and have my best game. I feel like the chances are there. I definitely want to be a guy that can go out there and help our team get a game back home.”
Stamkos is saying all the right things and doing almost all the right things, but the results have not been there. Even though he has topped out all Lightning forwards in ice time, some have questioned his deployment by coach Jon Cooper, wondering why Stamkos wasn’t out for even more time in the dying minutes of Game 5 as Cooper continued to roll his lines. But it also raises the age-old question about ice time. Is Stamkos getting the ice time he deserves or would he accomplish more with his skates on the ice more?
“I mean, the ice time thing I think is getting a little blown out of proportion,” Stamkos said. “Whenever your name gets called, you hop over there. The coaching staff obviously has a game plan. Our teammates believe in everyone that goes over the boards that they’re going to get the job done. For me, I obviously want to produce. That’s part of the territory.”
Stamkos acknowledged to being run down at this point of the playoffs, saying, “It feels like the first series was last year.” And while fatigue certainly must be a factor, it should not be an excuse. It’s June and everyone has played more than 100 games. They’re all tired and banged up. For his part, Cooper said he’s not concerned with Stamkos’ lack of production, nor his ability to rise to the occasion. This is a team that defeated a Rangers team on the road, becoming the first team in league history to do that in a Game 7. “Our group was the angry group,” Cooper said of his team’s mood after Game 6. “If they’re going to be angry birds tomorrow night, that’s what I want.”
And none of them will have to be angrier and more predatorial than Stamkos. Reputations and legacies are built on times like these and it’s time for Stamkos to forge his.
KUCHEROV QUESTIONABLE Cooper said while Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov is in better shape today than he was when he rammed into the goalpost Saturday night and left the game, he’s uncertain whether Kucherov will be able to play Monday night. “He’s in considerably better shape today than he was last night,” Cooper said of Kucherov. “To be honest, I thought there was a chance he was coming back last night. But it didn't work out.”
As far as goalie Ben Bishop, who played Game 5 after missing Game 4 with an undisclosed injury, said Bishop is feeling, “much better.”