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Lightning’s Steven Stamkos makes most of Stadium Series opportunity

The captain contributed to all three Tampa Bay goals, including the winner, in the outdoor game against the Predators.
The Lightning's Steven Stamkos, right, joins the celebration after Nikita Kucherov's goal in the second period of the Stadium Series game Saturday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
The Lightning's Steven Stamkos, right, joins the celebration after Nikita Kucherov's goal in the second period of the Stadium Series game Saturday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. [ MARK HUMPHREY | AP ]
Published Feb. 27|Updated Feb. 27

NASHVILLE — There was an undeniable jump in Steven Stamkos’ game Saturday night.

No, the captain didn’t have foot warmers tucked into his skates to help with the 40-degree temperatures during the Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Predators in the Stadium Series outdoor game at Nissan Stadium.

The boost came from elsewhere.

After competing in 890 NHL games, Stamkos finally got to play in his first outdoor game. It was the second-longest wait among active players, behind Joe Thornton, who went 1,263 games before playing in a Stadium Series game with the Sharks in 2015.

Stamkos made the most of his opportunity. He assisted on Tampa Bay’s first two goals and scored what ended up being the winner.

“For a lot of us, this was our first experience in this atmosphere, and it kind of blew it out of the water,” Stamkos said. “It was amazing.

“From the fans to our fans traveling to the atmosphere to just being around the guys these last couple days and putting on the Canadian tuxedos (for game-arrival outfits) and coming over (to the stadium) in the tractor … it was highlighted by the win. Obviously, it makes this whole experience that much more memorable, but it was really fun to be out there.”

The NHL’s first regular-season outdoor game was played between the Oilers and Canadiens in 2003 in Edmonton. Almost two decades later, the Lightning became the 27th of the 32 teams to compete outdoors, their cause likely helped by their recent success, including Stanley Cup championships the past two seasons.

It’s plausible that Stamkos, 32 and in his 14th season, also skated in his last outdoor game. If it is his last, he put on a show.

“No question” he tried to make the most of the weekend, coach Jon Cooper said.

Stamkos had five shots on goal, tying three others for most in the game, and one hit in 18:35 of ice time. He assisted on goals by Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov.

“(Stamkos) looked good,” forward Pat Maroon said. “He looked really good. I told him to keep shooting because one was going to go in.”

With the Lightning leading 2-1 and about 8½ minutes left in the game, Stamkos received a cross-ice pass from defenseman Cal Foote low in the left circle and one-timed a shot past Predators goaltender Juuse Saros. Nashville forward Filip Forsberg scored less than a minute later, in the end making Stamkos’ goal the winner.

“I don’t know how many backdoor shots he could have had,” Maroon said, “but he finally got one.”

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Said forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare: “(Stamkos) was on from the drop of the puck. That’s where you want your top guys to be at the end of the day.”

For Stamkos, who leads the Lightning with 25 goals, any score that helps his team win is something to be cherished. But Saturday’s goal, given the setting, was especially meaningful.

“When you do it in a state like this … it was a long time coming,” Stamkos said. “I hadn’t had a chance to (play outdoors). Spent a lot of years in this league. … It was just kind of extra special to have a good game, personally.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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