BOSTON — What's up with Steven Stamkos?
The numbers don't lie and they don't paint a very pretty picture of the Lightning captain at the moment.
Two goals in these playoffs. Both on the power play. One into an empty net.
Go back farther. It gets uglier. In his past 17 postseason games, he has two goals — those two that we just talked about. He has now gone 18 consecutive playoff games — and nearly three years — since he scored an even-strength goal.
Few goals. Few really good chances. Too many shifts where he isn't even noticed.
We're not talking about some fourth-line grinder here. We're talking about a difference-making player who isn't making a difference. We're talking about a star who isn't playing like a star.
The good news for the Lightning is that it is two victories away from the conference finals even though Stamkos has done little offensively. But it's hard to imagine the Lightning making a Cup run without Stamkos' name showing up more often on the scoresheet.
Clearly, something is wrong.
Is he hurt? Possibly, although you're better off asking a hockey player for his ATM PIN than asking if he's hurt around this time of year. Besides, Stamkos has already admitted that his body will never been 100 percent again and maybe a late-season leg injury is still bugging him.
Is the chemistry between him and linemate Nikita Kucherov a little off? No doubt about it because Kucherov isn't playing all that hot either.
Is it just a scoring slump? Is Stamkos no longer an elite goal scorer? Or are we simply making too much out of, when you think about it, a very small sample size?
"Obviously, we want to try to produce a little more," Stamkos said of his line. "Things aren't going quite our way. We're not getting some of the quality chances we're accustomed to. And when we are, they're not going in."
Now let's be clear: Stamkos isn't scoring, but he is most definitely playing hard. You cannot question his effort. This isn't about desire or work ethic.
On Thursday, in the visitors' locker room at the Bruins' practice facility, Stamkos spoke while dripping with sweat from being one of the last Lightning players on the ice.
"When things aren't going well offensively, you need other parts of your game to be spot on," Stamkos said. "I think for the most part, our line has defended well. For me, (I'm) trying to focus on the little aspects of the game — faceoffs and things like that that are important."
There is no doubt that the other parts of Stamkos' game are, to use his word, spot-on. And they are important. He is winning faceoffs. He is defending well. He led the team with four hits in Game 3. And, to be fair, he has five assists in the postseason.
He's doing everything he's supposed to except the one thing he has always done best: score goals.
"At this time of the year, you want to play the right way and we want to win," Stamkos said. "Obviously, we want to produce and I think that's what can help our team get over the top here, our top six forwards all going at the same time. That's a recipe for success, especially at this time of the year."
Translation: who cares if Stamkos is scoring as long as the Lightning is still winning? Would you rather him pick up a hat trick every night and lose? Or would you rather see the Lightning win regardless of who is scoring? And all the other things Stamkos is doing are contributing to the victories.
"The good thing is we're up in the series and we feel we have more to give as a line, which is definitely a positive," Stamkos said.
Look, Stamkos knows full well that he isn't scoring. He isn't burying his head in the ice. He didn't even try to make Wednesday night's empty-net goal in the final minute a bigger deal than it was.
"Yeah, it was nice to see that go in," Stamkos said. "But at the same time, it doesn't change the game plan going in. You can't be thinking, 'Oh, well, I got an empty-netter, things are going to turn now.' You have to work at it.
We've talked a lot as a line and realized what we have to do to try to create some more offense."
Now it needs to go out and actually do it. Sooner or later, Stamkos is going to have to put in a few goals in these playoffs. If it's not sooner, there might not be a later for the Lightning.