Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos says of seemingly impossible goal: No big deal

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos had to laugh. So did some of his teammates.

Of course he did it again.

The Lightning captain opened Wednesday's practice by re-creating his brilliant final act from Tuesday's 4-3 shootout win over the Panthers. Shortly after taking the ice at Amalie Arena, Stamkos darted below the left circle, near the goalline. He ripped the puck into the top corner of the empty net. It was similar to Stamkos' wild-angled, how-did-he-do-that shot with 5.5 seconds left Tuesday.

The goal forced overtime, and put Stamkos' goal No. 314 on highlight reels all over the hockey world.

"I told you I work at it," Stamkos said, smiling. "It's not all luck."

A lot went into one of the best shots of Stamkos' career, and the biggest goal of the Lightning's young season. Stamkos is one of a handful of players who can convert that shot, and probably the only one who actually practices it. But it might not have been possible without the net-front presence of Alex Killorn, who distracted goalie James Reimer, or the timely on-the-tape pass by defenseman Victor Hedman.

"There were a lot of moving parts," coach Jon Cooper said. "You need them all to work."

•••

As Hedman surveyed his options with six seconds left in regulation, he quickly realized that shooting wasn't one of them.

"It's tough when 10 guys are in front of the net," Hedman said. "If you get it through, you've got to get really lucky. Stammer was open."

Hedman, one of the game's most proficient passers, delivered a smooth feed right into Stamkos' sweet spot.

"If (Hedman) puts that behind or in front, that's not going in," Cooper said. The ice tends to get soft late in games, which could make a pass bounce. "It stayed flat the entire way," Stamkos said. "Whether it was meant to be."

•••

Killorn positioned his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame in front of Reimer in the waning seconds Tuesday, hoping to deflect a Hedman shot or pounce on a rebound.

Reimer tried to look over Killorn's screen, making him late to react to Hedman's pass down low to Stamkos. "If Killorn is not in front to distract, Reimer probably sees the pass and easily moves over," Cooper said.

•••

Still, Killorn didn't think Stamkos would shoot.

"I was shocked," he said.

Most wouldn't. And that's the point.

"Maybe 80 percent of the players don't even think about shooting that," Stamkos said. "Where I've done it a number of times in practice. I have a certain amount of confidence I can get a decent shot off from that angle, and maybe surprise the goalie."

Said Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who attends most Lightning home games as a Blackhawks adviser: "He has that special ingredient in that he anticipated perfectly without any hesitation."

It wasn't a typical one-timer, more of a redirection, the puck hitting the heel of Stamkos' stick, moving down to the toe, riding the blade to hit that elevation.

Several teammates joke that Stamkos' strong golf game played a role. But it was his slick, and quick, hands.

"He shows he's a good chipper with touch like that," goalie Ben Bishop said.

The puck soared over Reimer's shoulder in the tiniest of openings. Bishop said Stamkos is one of the more accurate shooters in the league. "He's one of the few guys that when he misses, he misses in the net," Bishop said.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said that his Alex Ovechkin and Stamkos are among "three or four guys" in the league who can put the puck in that small of a window.

"They're shooting from ridiculous angles," Trotz said. "The rest of us mortals will be shooting from the middle and we still can't hit the net."

It made for an imperfect storm for a helpless Reimer.

"Obviously you'd like to make those saves in the end," Reimer said. "But sometimes it's not possible."

ROSTER MOVE: Defenseman Slater Koekkoek, a healthy scratch the first three games, was reassigned to AHL Syracuse on Wednesday, likely to get more playing time. Defenseman Matt Taormina was recalled. For more, go to tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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