TAMPA — C Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup Thursday, which was his goal when he left the April 1 game against the Predators with a lower-body injury.
Stamkos, who finished the final three games of the regular season inactive, also finished the regular season with a 12-game goalless drought. He had three in his final 19 games, with two of those coming March 3 against Flyers.
"When you're not 100 percent, there's probably some other things that are on your mind when you're playing," coach Jon Cooper said after the morning skate.
Stamkos set a career high with 59 assists this season. He had eight over those final 12 games.
But it is Stamkos' ability to put the puck in the net that frightens opposing teams. He took 25 shots over those last 12 games, which averages out to nearly one below his season average of 2.71 per game.
"Ultimately, he's a shooter and the more he shoots the more chance he has of the puck going in," Cooper said. "We didn't have many power-play opportunities down the stretch. That's something that can get guys scoring, especially scorers. … It's just a matter of having that mental wherewithal to stick with your game plan. If it doesn't go in on this shot it will go in on the next one, but don't give up shooting the puck, because that's what you're good at."
Married to matchups?
When LW Taylor Hall's line came over the boards for a defensive zone faceoff early in the first period, Cooper sent out his best checking line — Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. He also had Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman as the defensive pairings. Expect to see a lot of that this series as both coaches try to match their top defensive line against the opponents' top scoring line.
But, Cooper said, "You're married to them until they don't work."
The last thing a coach wants to do in a playoff series is stick with something that is not working. Also, it will be harder for Cooper to match lines when the series shifts to New Jersey because the home team has the last change. So, ideally you want to right matchup, but you better be prepared when it does not work out.
"How are we going to adjust that that? In the big picture of all this, don't worry about who you are playing against," Cooper said, "just better fight through it, because you're going to see different guys.
He said it
"Experience is good. Let's be honest, regardless of however you're getting it. I'd rather have it than not. In the end it's what you do with it." — Cooper on how G Andrei Vasilevskiy's playoff experience filling in for an injured G Ben Bishop will help him this year.
All proceeds from Thursday's 50/50 raffle were donated to the Humboldt Broncos Community. … Lightning scratches for Game 1 were D Slater Koekkoek, D Jake Dotchin, D Andrej Sustr, C Cory Conacher and G Peter Budaj.
Contact Roger Mooney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @rogermooney50