Stamkos comes up empty, Lightning fall to Blackhawks
CHICAGO (AP) His eyes a bit glazed and a blue Lightning cap pulled tight over his head, Steven Stamkos looked like someone who took his best shots only to absorb the knockout blow.
He hit a crossbar. He got stopped on a breakaway.
He came away empty-handed and so did Tampa Bay.
Stamkos missed two big opportunities, and the Lightning fell 2-0 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, giving the Blackhawks their third championship in six years on Monday night.
''It hits you when you come in this room and you look around and you see the guys, how hard everyone's worked,'' Stamkos said. ''You just get a rush of emotions. You realize how tough it is to get (here). You never know if you're going to get this chance again. It's a pretty lonely feeling. You get that sick feeling in your stomach, knowing how hard you worked to get here. And to see it all kind of go away, it's tough.''
The Lightning finished third in the Eastern Conference and second in the Atlantic with 108 points in the regular season, then endured a grueling road. They rallied from 3-2 down in the first round to beat Detroit, took out Montreal in six and pulled out a seven-game series against the New York Rangers just to get to the Stanley Cup Final.
They played 26 games in all this postseason, matching a record shared by three other teams. But they ended the year by dropping three in a row for the first time this season and got shut out after back-to-back 2-1 losses.
It sure would have helped had Stamkos broken through. But after finishing second in the league in goals during the regular season and delivering a brilliant performance in the Eastern Conference showdown with the Rangers, he came away empty-handed against Chicago.
When it was over, coach Jon Cooper said he ''felt sick'' for Stamkos.
''You've got to feel for him because I know he's going to put a bunch of, probably, weight on his shoulders of why we didn't score,'' Cooper said. ''But Stammer did an unreal job for us. Nobody scored. It wasn't just Stammer. We've gone through this whole year, depth has carried us. Stammer clearly has been a big part of that. We needed more than Steven to score. The well ran dry.''
Stamkos barely missed his first goal of the series about eight minutes into the final game when he hit the crossbar with a slapshot, and the night did not get any better for him after that. Stamkos got stopped on a breakaway just under a minute into the second, slowing down in front of Corey Crawford and then watching his shot get knocked away by the goalie's pad.
''Shot it exactly where I wanted to on the first one, beat him, didn't obviously beat the post,'' Stamkos said. ''That's kind of the way it went.''
On the breakaway? He was surprised Crawford stayed back rather than coming out to meet him.
''Made a move, thought I made a good one, just got in too close,'' Stamkos said. ''I couldn't elevate it. I think it might have grazed the side of the net or the post. Had some other looks. Just for whatever reason, it didn't go in.''
It was tough for him to accept, particularly with so much at stake.
The scoreless final came after he tied a club playoff record with goals in four straight games in the conference final against the Rangers. He was also second to Washington's Alex Ovechkin with 43 during the regular season.
Against Chicago, there were close calls - and frustration.
''Obviously I want to play better,'' Stamkos said. ''You want to produce. That's what I'm here for. There are so many more things involved that a lot of people don't see, leadership ability and your (competitiveness) and all that stuff. But when it doesn't translate to production in a series where we don't score a lot of goals - such a tight series - you take that personally. You take that to heart.''