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Steven Stamkos, power play boost Lightning over Bruins

The captain has a four-game goal streak and is one of the league’s hottest players this month.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) beats Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during the second period of the game on Thursday, December 12, 2019, between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins at Amalie Arena in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) beats Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during the second period of the game on Thursday, December 12, 2019, between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins at Amalie Arena in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes]
Published Dec. 13, 2019
Updated Dec. 13, 2019

TAMPA — A four-game goal streak doesn’t sound like much for Steven Stamkos, a player known as one of the best scorers in the league. But it might be the start of something.

Stamkos extended that streak with two goals in a 3-2 win over the Bruins and now has six goals in the past four games. He is scoring off the rush, on the forecheck, on the power play, some of everything.

On Thursday, he put the Lightning on the board with a power-play goal in the second period, then scored an insurance goal-turned-game-winner on the forecheck in the third.

Related: Three questions with Bruins' broadcaster, and former ESPN anchor, Jack Edwards

That second goal isn’t Stamkos’ usual. But he’s on a new line with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn, two players known for their forecheck, and has done so twice in the last two games.

Stamkos broke up a play at the blue line as Patrice Bergeron tried to chip the puck up to David Pastrnak and out of the zone. He then fended off Bergeron to put a wrist shot cleanly past Tuukka Rask.

“He brings a whole lot of skill to our line,” Cirelli said. “Stammer obviously with the big shot that he has and the playmaking ability that he has. It’s so easy to play with him, just give him the puck.”

Stamkos said the same of Cirelli. Playing with him and Killorn, “two smart defensive players,” almost makes the game easier for Stamkos. He knows if he is in position, Cirelli will get the puck to him. He might even be able to make an “educated cheat” because Cirelli can make the play.

“There always could be a play,” he said of playing with Cirelli. “He’s going to pickpocket someone, he’s going to take an extra stride on the forecheck, lift a guy’s stick and we’re off in transition.”

Playing with Cirelli and Killorn has pushed Stamkos back to the wing. He’s now played right wing, left wing and center this season. This certainly isn’t the first Stamkos has played wing — he played the whole 2015 Stanley Cup Final at wing — but he’s been clear that he prefers to play center, his natural position. Going back and forth hasn’t been easy, but he likes the chemistry that line has right now.

This trio were together earlier in the season, but without this kind of chemistry. As the team has figured out how it wants to play overall, so has this line figured out how to mesh the different styles.

Stamkos’ first goal Thursday was more expected of him, and representative of another unit’s chemistry. The power play has been more stable, even as the lines have changed frequently.

Stamkos scored on a wrist shot from just above the hash marks, a play on which he had plenty of time. Nikita Kucherov battled for the puck after the Lightning lost the faceoff.

The Bruins all drifted away from Stamkos and Kucherov saw the opening. Leaving Stamkos alone creates a Lightning goal more often than not.

Kucherov also created Brayden Point’s third-period, power-play goal. He retrieved the rebound of Victor Hedman’s shot off the boards and, still facing away from the play, flung the puck behind him. As perhaps only Kucherov can, he found Point in the slot, for the one-timer.

“We don’t need a lot of opportunities to score,” Stamkos said of the power play. “I wouldn’t score us a heavy shot volume power play, it’s the quality of chances that we have, and we’ve been getting a lot of quality chances lately.”

Wherever you put him, Stamkos is scoring goals lately. His six goals in December rate him as one of the hottest players this month.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos

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