The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars 5-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who had not played since Feb. 25 due to injury, scored a goal despite taking the ice for just 2:47.
Tampa Bay led 2-1 after one period before scoring three unanswered second-period goals.
The Lightning have won two straight after beating Dallas 3-2 in Game 2. The Stars earned a 4-1 win in Game 1.
Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov: 1 goal, 1 assist
Lightning C Brayden Point: 1 goal, 1 assist
Lightning LW Ondrej Palat: 1 goal, 1 assist
Lightning C Steven Stamkos: 1 goal
Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy: 22 saves on 24 shots
Stars D Miro Heiskanen: 1 goal
Stars C Jason Dickinson: 1 goal
Stars G Anton Khudobin: 24 saves on 29 shots
Stamkos Shines in Brief Return
The record shows that Steven Stamkos played just 2:47 on Wednesday, but he made a tremendous impact on the ice thanks to his short-handed goal to put his team up 2-0 and give Tampa Bay firm control of Game 3.
Stamkos had surgery on March 2 to repair a core muscle and has suffered multiple setbacks since with lower-body injuries. He would be thrown into the fire nearly seven months later in the Stanley Cup with the Lightning tied at one game apiece with the pesky Stars, who arrived into this series as underdogs but had drawn even with Tampa thus far.
Pressure and rust clearly weren't factors for Stamkos on Wednesday, however, as he calmly scored Tampa's second goal at 6:58 of the first period:
ESPN's Emily Kaplan provided the best context into the situation:
Emily Kaplan @emilymkaplan
To recap: Steven Stamkos hasn’t played all summer. He draws in the lineup today, first game in 211 days. Scores on his first shot. Plays ~3 minutes, rides the bench whole 2nd period, who knows if we’ll see him again. Whatever happens, this is going down in Stanley Cup lore.
Stamkos, who is the author of 422 goals and 410 assists during his 12-year regular-season career with the Lightning, had been dominant yet again in 2019-20. He amassed 29 goals and 37 assists in just 57 games en route to helping Tampa Bay become the NHL's top-scoring team.
However, the Lightning were forced to traverse throughout the entire postseason without Stamkos due to the injury.
They still crushed the Eastern Conference competition en route to five-game series wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins and a six-gamer over the New York Islanders, but the Stars and scorching-hot goalie Anton Khobulin proved to be another story. Dallas dominated Game 1, 4-1 and nearly won Game 2, losing 3-2 after falling behind 3-0.
Enter Stamkos, who made the lineup on Wednesday and provided the Lightning with the boost they needed.
After the game, he called the experience a "dream come true," per Chris Johnston of Hockey Night in Canada.
It was a dream come true for the Lightning and their fans as well.
While Stamkos clearly couldn't give the Lightning a full effort based on his ice time, it didn't matter as his goal might end up being the one that turns the tide in Tampa Bay's favor for good as the team looks for its second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Another 3-Goal Single-Period Deluge Sinks Stars
The Stars fell in Game 2 after allowing three goals in a 3:53 first-period span. Dallas battled back and got within 3-2, but could not find the equalizer en route to Tampa Bay tying the series at one.
On Wednesday, the Stars allowed three goals in the second period. This time around, the Stars didn't have enough offensive firepower or time to battle back.
The ever-dangerous Victor Hedman got things going in the second by scoring his first of the Stanley Cup Final (but 10th in the playoffs) within one minute of puck drop:
Brayden Point then got on the board after taking advantage of an odd-man rush, firing this shot past Khudobin off a feed from Kucherov:
Then Ondrej Palat was in the right place at the right time, putting home a loose puck for the Lightning's fifth goal:
The Stars got one back midway through the third, but by then, it was too little and too late for Dallas to mount much of a comeback.
Dallas was ultimately outplayed in this one, giving the puck away 21 times to Tampa's 14 and amassing 24 shots to Tampa's 32. But the Stars have still largely hung with the Lightning for large portions of the Stanley Cup's opening three games.
The key is preventing the Lightning offense from sustaining momentum and going on a single-period scoring surge. If the Stars can manage to better clamp down on defense and keep giveaways to a minimum, then they could easily hang in this series.
Game 4 will take place Friday at 8 p.m. ET at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.