A new outlook brings renewed success for Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos reacts to his second goal against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Zbynek Michalek.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos reacts to his second goal against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Zbynek Michalek.

PITTSBURGH

It was the Stanley Cup playoffs, and so he should be worried.

His team was on the verge of an early elimination, and so he should be frustrated. He had not scored a goal, and so he should be embarrassed.

It seemed the whole world was watching Steven Stamkos in his first postseason, and everyone had an opinion on how it should make him feel.

It wasn't until his parents drove in from their home outside Toronto and had dinner with their son and Steve Downie at a Pittsburgh steak house Friday night that Stamkos was given an alternative suggestion.

How about being thrilled?

"We talked about the number of playoff games I watched on TV growing up and how many times we watched the Stanley Cup finals," Stamkos said. "When you take a step back and think about it that way, I'm getting a chance to live my dream. So why not go out there and have fun?

"That was pretty much it. A pretty simple message."

Followed by a pretty stunning result.

Stamkos scored the first two playoff goals of his career in an 8-2 victory against the Penguins in Game 5 on Saturday afternoon, bringing the Lightning home for at least one more game Monday night.

"We were just talking hockey and playoffs, and I said, 'You're two of the younger guys on the team. Why not relax and enjoy this?' " said his father, Chris Stamkos. "There was a chance it was their last game of the season, so they should have some fun."

For a guy who had more goals than any player in the NHL during the past two seasons, it's amazing to think Saturday's effort was the first time in three months and 38 games that Stamkos found the net twice on the same day.

So yes, the worry, frustration and embarrassment had all been justified.

Because when you're an elite scorer, there is no in-between. You either produce or you disappoint. No one wants to hear about your defense or how hard you go to the corners.

Stamkos has had moments where he has played well and simply not scored. And he has had moments where he has played poorly and simply disappeared.

And as the scoring slump continued, it was getting hard to tell the difference. Even for Stamkos.

"He's been composed, but it was eating him up. How could it be otherwise? It's your job. It's your role," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. "It's like if your boss tells you he doesn't like your article. Two weeks in a row, he tells you your articles are no good.

"Now think about living that way for three months. Oh, that's not good. Everyone telling you you're not good enough? And that's what he's been going through all this time."

Boucher would talk to Stamkos. He would tell him the process was more important than the result. He would tell him to forget about the goals and focus on his effort.

"If you've got a flower and you want it to grow, if you pull on it, it ain't going to grow any faster," Boucher said. "It takes time and experience."

Few players have a shot as pretty as that of Stamkos, but Boucher was trying to get him to stop waiting for outside shots and to move in front of the net.

That's exactly how Stamkos broke through Saturday. With the Lightning leading 1-0 in the first period, Stamkos fought through defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin to get in front of the net and was there to backhand in a rebound of a Downie shot.

The following period, he did it again after passing to Eric Brewer at the point then moving to the net, where he put in Brewer's rebound.

"I know it was weighing on him, but Stammer is a good pro," forward Marty St. Louis said. "He has a lot of poise and a lot of fight. He's got fight in him, and sometimes scoring goals is all about the fight."

Because Stamkos has accomplished so much so soon, we tend to forget he just turned 21 a couple of months ago. It is not an excuse, but it is a factor.

"You're not going to sail through a career scoring a goal every other game. That's not realistic, and I'm a realist," Stamkos said. "I've learned a lot about myself through this, and I'm better for it."

And now a new question must be asked:

Was Game 5 the start of something big, or was it a blip?

"He found the net, so it's like, 'Phew.' He can play now," Boucher said. "He's like a horse who wants to get going but is being held back. Now all of a sudden, we're going to let him go."

As for Stamkos, he's just trying to remember this is meant to be fun.

"Maybe," he said grinning, "I need to fly my parents down to Tampa."

A new outlook brings renewed success for Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos 04/23/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 12:50am]

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