TAMPA — At this point of the postseason, no player feels 100 percent, health-wise. And as much as has been made of Nikita Kucherov’s return from hip surgery that sidelined him for the entire regular season, captain Steven Stamkos’ health as he’s returned from a lower body injury that forced him to miss the final month of the regular season has mostly gone unnoted.
Asked before Monday night’s Game 5 against the Islanders how he has been feeling physically, Stamkos said he’s “good enough to play,” which is not exactly a ringing endorsement that he’s playing pain free.
“I’m not gonna get into that sort of stuff,” Stamkos said when asked whether he’s been limited. “I’m out there, just like everyone else, trying our hardest to win every night. So at this time of the year, you could go through so many different things that guys are battling through. That’s why it’s the toughest trophy in sports to win. So if the guys are on the ice, it means that they’re good enough to go out there and help our team win and that’s our goal.”
Stamkos has five goals and nine assists in 14 postseason games, but nine of his 14 playoff points have come on the power play. And he has no goals and just one assist in the first four games of the semifinals, in part because the Lightning power play hasn’t been on the ice nearly as much against the Islanders as it was in the previous two series.
“I think we saw that for sure in the first series, the power play was zipping around it and carried through into the second series,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Stamkos’ early playoff production. “We’ve been getting contributions from everybody. And that’s how you get to where we are now and Stammer’s no different. When we needed him, he’s delivered for us.”
While the play of the Lightning’s second line of Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Stamkos has been pivotal this season, they have no points this series in 5-on-5 play. Goals have been at a premium throughout the semifinals, with just 17 scored in four games.
“Everyone wants to go out there and produce at this time of the year and each round it gets tougher and tougher, and the checking becomes tighter as you get closer to the final,” Stamkos said. “Of course you want to go out there and produce and help your team win so that that doesn’t change whether it’s Game 1 of the season or it’s going to be Game 5 of the semifinals right now. It is tough out there but we’re not sitting here saying that it’s too tough.”
As for Stamkos, his ice time has decreased. Over the past six games dating to a two-goal, one-assist performance in Game 4 against Carolina, he’s averaging 13:56 of ice time, compared to 17:12 over his first nine postseason games. Stamkos played 12:05 in Saturday night’s Game 4, his lowest ice time of the playoffs.
Last postseason, Stamkos missed all but 2:47 of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run — though he scored one of the biggest goals of the playoffs in Game 3 of the finals against Dallas — and needed surgery in the offseason to correct a nagging core muscle injury.
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