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The Lightning and Steven Stamkos have regained their swagger

Steven Stamkos' slump-busting goal Tuesday in Nashville looks like his signature moment thus far this season.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos celebrates after scoring against the Nashville Predators in the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. The Lightning won 4-3 in overtime. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos celebrates after scoring against the Nashville Predators in the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. The Lightning won 4-3 in overtime. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Published Jan. 24, 2018

NASHVILLE — Steven Stamkos' already released his frustration with an emphatic fist pump late Tuesday, his slump-busting goal having tied the game late.

But as the Lightning and Predators prepared for overtime, Stamkos took another minute for some trash talk by the benches with childhood buddy P.K. Subban, who boasts one of the league's best one-timers.

"I told him, 'I've got a Subban shot," Stamkos said, smiling, after Tampa Bay's 4-3 win in overtime.

With back to back wins in Chicago and Nashville, the Lightning has its swagger back. And so does Stamkos.

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This was Stamkos' signature moment this season. He has 17 other goals. None this meaningful. None this late. And until Tuesday, none in this calendar year.

"Anytime you go on a drought like I was in, it's frustrating," Stamkos said. "I've just been trying to play the game the right way. So it was extra special to get a goal that meant that much and then to get the monkey off my back, so to say, was a nice feeling."

Stamkos' slump coincided with the toughest stretch of the season for Tampa Bay. The Lightning entered Tuesday having lost five of its last eight, with Stamkos a minus-4 in those games.

Stamkos said last week he needed to be better and lead the way. And on Tuesday, boy did he. The Lightning (33-12-3) was playing without top defenseman Victor Hedman (lower body) and forward Ondrej Palat (lower body). Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was a healthy scratch, and Tampa Bay was playing its backup goalie against one of the best teams in the league.

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Stamkos showed flashes the past couple games, including a four-shot effort in a 2-0 win Monday at Chicago. It carried into Tuesday, when Stamkos beautifully set up Vladislav Namestnikov on a 2-on-1 for the tying goal midway through the first. Cooper turned to Stamkos at intermission:
"'Stammer you're feeling it tonight. When you get open, keep shooting the puck."

Stamkos has welcomed the role reversal as a playmaker for a good part of this season, especially while playing alongside fellow All-Star Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos was just happy to be playing – period – after missing  most of last year following knee surgery. His 38 assists are his highest in a season since a career-high 46 in 2010-11.

But Stamkos hasn't lost his shot, especially from his "office" in the left circle. It's where he's done most of his damage in his career and this season, boasting a league-high 12 power play goals.

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So when Stamkos wound up with three minutes left in regulation, Louis Domingue knew what was coming. Top shelf. Bar down. In. Nashville goalie Juuse Saros had no chance.

"Since I've been here, I haven't seen a big one-timer like that – I was waiting for it," said Domingue, the Lightning's backup goalie. "I knew he had it in him. What a key moment to do so. So it was good to see."

Stamkos said the release was so smooth he didn't even feel it, comparing it to a perfect golf or tennis shot.

"It fires off the stick," he said

It's the kind of goal that Stamkos said gives him a confidence-boost with one game left Thursday in Philadelphia before he captains the Atlantic Division in Sunday's NHL All Star Game in Tampa.

"He's such an elite, talented guy with the ability to change a game with one shot," veteran wing Chris Kunitz said. "You saw it there. All he needed was one more."

A "Subban shot."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.