BOSTON — A few weeks ago, the narrative for Steven Stamkos being in his hometown of Toronto today during the trade deadline revolved around him potentially ending up elsewhere.
The Lightning captain will still be the story tonight at Air Canada Centre against the Maple Leafs. But with a no-trade guarantee thanks to a Feb. 15 statement by general manager Steve Yzerman, Stamkos has flipped the script to revolve around his, and the Lightning's, revival.
"When he goes, we go," wing Ryan Callahan said.
Stamkos scored for the sixth consecutive game Sunday in the Lightning's 4-1 win over the Bruins at TD Garden, and he can tie his career-long goal streak against the Maple Leafs. It is no coincidence that Tampa Bay (36-22-4) has won all six games in Stamkos' stretch, and the streak has pulled the defending Eastern Conference champions within two points of first-place Florida in the Atlantic Division.
Stamkos said his confidence is as high as it has been all season, and it couldn't have come at a better time for him and the Lightning.
"It's a lot easier to feel even better when the team is having success," Stamkos said. "It's obviously icing on the cake to be producing in those wins."
This one was huge, with Tampa Bay entering the game tied with Boston in points for the second spot in the division.
After falling behind 1-0, the Lightning scored four straight goals, two by a surging Callahan (team-high six shots), who has five goals in his past seven games after getting just one in the previous 41.
Alex Killorn scored for the second consecutive game as the top line of Killorn-Stamkos-Callahan continued to roll. The much-maligned power play, which entered in a 2-for-51 skid on the road, scored on its first two shots. And the penalty kill went 6-for-6 against one of the league's top power plays, buoyed by Ben Bishop's 32 saves.
The only scare came late, when Tyler Johnson took a puck off the forehead. He skated off the ice with a blood-soaked towel on his face. Coach Jon Cooper said that other than some stitches, Johnson should be fine.
Stamkos' goal, coming on a penalty shot, gave him a team-leading 28 on the season.
"You're going to look at the end of the year, and he's going to end up with 40, maybe 50," Cooper said. "Doesn't really matter how he gets there."
The popular theories for Stamkos' resurgence have been his return to his natural, and preferred, position of center and the relief of Yzerman telling the hockey world his biggest star wouldn't be moved at the deadline.
Stamkos said the resurgence has been mostly due to him returning to the kind of game that has made him one of the league's most elite scorers. He's driving to the net and is a force on the forecheck. He's killing penalties. He's flying up an down the ice.
"When your leader is playing that way and playing the right way, it's hard for guys not to follow," Cooper said.
"When he gets going," wing Ondrej Palat said, "he's the best player on the ice."
It's a stark contrast from where Stamkos was the last time Tampa Bay was in Toronto, in late December. His scoring drought had reached 10 games after that win over the Maple Leafs. This time, Stamkos can make some personal history.
The only other time Stamkos has scored in seven straight games was Feb. 13-March 11, 2010. The seventh game was in Toronto.
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First Period—1, Boston, K.Miller 5 (Kemppainen, Ferraro), 6:01. 2, Tampa Bay, Killorn 12 (Stralman, Callahan), 11:19 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Callahan 9 (Killorn), 14:39. Penalties—Rinaldo, Bos (illegal check to head minor), 10:49; Sustr, TB (holding), 11:51; Brown, TB (hooking), 20:00.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Callahan 10 (Stamkos, Stralman), 8:18 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 28 (penalty shot), 10:04. Penalties—Killorn, TB (holding), 4:44; Bergeron, Bos (goaltender interference), 8:11; Palat, TB (hooking), 8:29; Chara, Bos (embellishment), 8:29; Sustr, TB (hooking), 10:50.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Killorn, TB (hooking), 7:52; McQuaid, Bos (high-sticking), 14:32; Paquette, TB (hooking), 18:56. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 14-11-5—30. Boston 11-11-11—33. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 3; Boston 0 of 6. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 26-17-3 (33 shots-32 saves). Boston, Rask 24-18-5 (30-26).