Steven Stamkos is powering the Tampa Bay Lightning’s recent surge and has them closing in on a playoff berth.
Overcoming a slew of injuries has the Detroit Red Wings clinging to the final position in the Eastern Conference.
Stamkos attempts to continue his scoring barrage as the Lightning attempt to sweep the season series from the Red Wings on Sunday night.
Stamkos went three games without a point after he missed 45 with a broken shin. The star center has shaken off his rust in impressive fashion, notching nine goals and four assists to spur Tampa Bay’s 7-0-2 stretch.
"When he gets the puck on his stick pretty close to the net, he’s dangerous wherever he is," coach Jon Cooper said.
Stamkos proved that again after a gaffe Saturday, scoring his second goal midway through overtime of a 4-3 win at Buffalo. Stamkos also assisted on Ryan Callahan’s tally in the third period, less than two minutes after he gave the Sabres the lead when his errant pass during a delayed penalty missed Michael Kostka and traveled into the empty net.
"It’s funny how things work out. He’s the guy who ends up being a big part of bailing you out in the end," Cooper said. "We’ve had a habit of making the highlight shows, both good and bad."
It’s been mostly good of late, with the Lightning (41-24-9) moving 11 points clear of the postseason cutoff with eight games to play. They’re also third in the Atlantic Division, two points behind second-place Montreal, which they host Tuesday.
The Red Wings’ playoff hopes aren’t nearly as secure — they’re tied with Columbus for the final two wild-card spots, two points ahead of Washington and Toronto.
Despite the precarious position, Detroit has overcome a series of injuries to key players and continue to be without captain Henrik Zetterberg (back) and star forward Pavel Datsyuk (knee).
"We’ve been devastated this year, no question about it, but we found all these kids and we’re better for it going ahead, so that’s a positive thing," coach Mike Babcock said. "We’ve had a lot of fun doing it.
"We’ve been in the grinder since day one, there’s no question about it, but we’ve had a lot of fun doing it and we’ve got a big game against Tampa."
Gustav Nyquist is one of those pleasant surprises. The center leads the Wings with 26 goals after totaling four in 40 games over the past two seasons.
He’s been particularly impressive of late, scoring 10 goals in eight games while netting at least one in seven of them, including Saturday.
Darren Helm added some unexpected punch against the Maple Leafs, getting his first career hat trick. The veteran center hadn’t scored over his previous 20 games, and missed eight others with a concussion.
"It was the first hat trick I ever had, which is pretty special," Helm said. "Big game to win, too. I was happy to win the game, first off, but the hat trick is a nice thing to take home."
Detroit, though, may be more concerned with slowing down Stamkos, who has two goals and one assist over the past three meetings.
He had a goal in a 3-2 win at Detroit on Nov. 9, but the Lightning did just fine without him in winning the next three meetings. That includes a 3-0 victory at Joe Louis Arena in the latest visit Dec. 15.
Ben Bishop had 28 saves in that meeting, and he has a 1.21 goals-against average while starting all four this season.