Lightning’s Steven Stamkos returns, scores, still managing injury in Game 3

Tampa Bay’s captain says it’s too early to determine his status for the rest of the series.
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning warms up prior to Game 3 against the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup final in Edmonton.
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning warms up prior to Game 3 against the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup final in Edmonton. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Sept. 23, 2020|Updated Sept. 24, 2020

Steven Stamkos finally made his first appearance of the playoffs — and scored on his first shot in 210 games — but he’s clearly still managing an injury.

Stamkos led the Lightning onto the ice for warmups Wednesday, before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. Traditionally, that role goes to the starting goalie, but when your captain returns to the lineup after seven months, he gets that honor.

He made an immediate impact with a goal, but Stamkos only played 2:47 before he was forced to spend the rest of the game on the bench, as lead cheerleader.

Related: What did Jon Cooper do the last time he had an injured captain in a championship?

Stamkos carried the puck into the zone, then perfectly placed a wrist shot on net. It’s a move the Lightning captain has made so many times, but this one carried a lot of emotion.

Winger Pat Maroon jumped on Stamkos, with center Cedric Paquette and defensemen Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta close behind. The bench erupted with a reaction similar to the team’s celebration of its overtime wins this postseason.

Stamkos only played two more shifts after that goal.

He had multiple conversations with both of the Lightning’s athletic trainers on the bench and sat out the final 6:18 of the first period. Stamkos did not come out of intermission with the team to start the second.

He returned to the bench about eight minutes into the period, but stayed there. Stamkos did the same thing back in November. He got hurt early in a win over Chicago, but remained on the bench in case the team really needed him.

Stamkos had surgery to repair a core muscle on March 2 and was supposed to miss six to eight weeks, but incurred multiple setbacks in his recovery.

“He’s a threat,” coach Jon Cooper said before the game. “So he’s just another thing for a team to think about when he’s out there. Whether that’s on the power play or five-on-five, you get another player that when the puck gets on his stick in the offensive zone, it might get in the net.”

Cooper also said there were a lot of pieces that needed to go into the decision to play Stamkos, including getting his timing back after going without any games and barely any practices.

Previously, he said he didn’t like the idea of having Stamkos as a power-play specialist because it would essentially take a player out of the lineup for most of the game. With a team banged up, as every team is by this point, you don’t want to put that on everyone else.