TAMPA, Fla. — They have become the most talked-about 17 minutes in Florida since the inaugural episode of the television show Cops.
Steven Stamkos played 17:17 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, as the Tampa Bay Lightning fell to the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1.
The team only scored one goal in the loss, and Stamkos had zero points, which led some to ask him and coach Jon Cooper if 17 measly minutes were enough ice time. After all, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane all played more than 20 minutes for the Blackhawks in Game 1, which turned in a blink when Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette scored less than two minutes apart late in the third period.
Of all the reasons the Lightning lost Game 1, Stamkos not playing enough minutes isn’t one of them.
In fact, there’s actually evidence that Stamkos is better when asked to do more with a little bit less.
In the four games this postseason in which Stamkos has played the fewest minutes, he has two goals and eight points; in his 17 other games, he has five goals and nine points.
|Steven Stamkos: Ice time vs. production in playoffs|
|Detroit (Game 6)||0||1||1||13:38||W, 5-2|
|Detroit (Game 2)||0||2||2||14:40||W, 5-1|
|New York (Game 5)||1||1||2||14:46||W, 2-0|
|Montreal (Game 2)||1||2||3||16:01||W, 6-2|
"Some of the best games he's played, he's played 14, he's played 19, he's played 17," Cooper said. "It's about winning the game and what we need to do to win the game."
The Lightning were also asked to kill 17 penalties in those four contests, and Stamkos is not part of the penalty-killing unit. The Blackhawks had just three power plays in Game 1, so those 17:17 some people are questioning were less about circumstance and more about Cooper delegating ice time as he saw fit.
Stamkos wants more ice time. Heck, Nikita Nesterov wants more ice time. Hockey players enjoy playing hockey, so of course they all would like to play more hockey.
As annoyed as he may be with answering the question during these two days between Games 1 and 2, Stamkos has been a loyal subject.
"Obviously, I want to be out there," he said. "For whatever reason, it didn't translate [in Game 1]. You have a belief in yourself that you can be a difference-maker. It might take one shot, one shift, whatever. I have that belief. That's not my decision. It just didn't work out in that situation. I'm not dwelling on that. I just have to find a way to produce next game."
In Game 1, Stamkos played 7:02 in the first period, 4:46 in the second period and 5:29 in the third period. He spent nearly two minutes on the ice during a power play in the first period and was forced to sit for two Blackhawks power plays in the second period. Stamkos served a too-many-men penalty, which could have trapped him in the penalty box for a potential four-on-four situation but again was a choice by Cooper that had logic behind it.
"That was a different situation because he was out with [Valtteri Filppula] and [Alex Killorn]," Cooper said. "They do kill. There is a risk on that because obviously Stammer is out there for four-on-four. But there is the fact that if that penalty gets killed, Stammer is on the ice right away—many times there's a break.
"It's tough when we don't get a lot of power plays. He's not out there as much because he doesn't kill penalties. That was more of a situational thing why that happened."
Stamkos felt he deserved to sit anyway.
"In that case, I kind of caused that one," he admitted. "I threw a pass back to the bench, so I probably deserved to serve that one."
The reasoning behind the criticism is sound: Get your best player as much ice time as possible.
But the flow of a game can throw a wrench into that plan, as can having a line with Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that's as capable of scoring as anyone.
Throw in the fact that Stamkos has excelled in limited minutes, and this is the epitome of a topic that comes up only because of that bonus off day between playoff games.
And it's apparent that Cooper isn't likely to deviate from that mindset moving forward either.
“We don't sit here and say, ‘Gosh, if we would have had Stammer on the ice that extra minute, the game would have changed,’” Cooper said Thursday. “He's done a hell of a job for us. He's led us to where we are. We wouldn't be here without him. I don't think that extra minute, give or take, makes any difference.”
Cooper is right; it doesn’t.
All statistics via NHL.com and all quotes obtained firsthand.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.