Steven Stamkos relieved to end playoff scoring drought
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Steven Stamkos is relieved, but hardly satisfied.
The two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner was able to end a frustrating playoff scoring drought last weekend, however the Lightning captain knows there's still plenty of work ahead in his team's series against Montreal.
Stamkos snapped a streak of 11 consecutive postseason games without a goal helping Tampa Bay take a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 Wednesday night. Game 4 is Thursday, when Minnesota hosts Chicago in the other game on the NHL playoff schedule.
''I feel like I've worked extremely hard these playoffs. Sometimes you don't get the bounces, but you do the little things that help your team win,'' Stamkos said. ''At this time of the year, it's about winning games.''
Stamkos was second in the league with 43 goals this season, and only Alex Ovechkin (256) has scored more regular-season goals than his 253 since the beginning of the 2009-10 season.
But the playoffs have been a different story.
Stamkos was quiet the last three games of Tampa Bay's opening-round loss to Montreal a year ago, then went scoreless in his team's first eight games game this postseason.
When he finally broke through with the go-ahead goal in the Lightning's 6-2 victory in Game 2, the All-Star center said he was relieved.
''When you're pressing, you're certainly not as comfortable and confident on the ice as you are when things are going well,'' Stamkos said. ''It's a little easier when the team is winning, it doesn't bother you as much. But when things aren't going well and you get a break to go your way, all of sudden your legs feel a little lighter, you feel a little more confident with the puck. Hopefully that's the case for me.''
Teammates never lost confidence in him.
''He talked about the relief, and obviously it was a big goal for him and for us, but all the while throughout the playoffs we were winning games, and he was contributing,'' center Brian Boyle said.
''He's obviously going to be huge for us going forward in the playoffs,'' Boyle added. '' If we want to do damage, he's going to have to lead the way.''
Tyler Johnson leads Tampa Bay with seven goals this postseason. Nikita Kucherov is next with three through nine games.
With Stamkos seeming back on track after having a goal and two assists in Game 2, coach Jon Cooper said that bodes well for the Lightning.
''Statistically, when Steven Stamkos scores a goal, we win a considerably amount more games than we lose,'' Cooper said.
''I think the one thing that this team has proven, though, is that even if Steven Stamkos doesn't score we still can win. I think that's been a confidence builder for all of us,'' Cooper added. ''And I think for Steven, he doesn't have to bear the burden of `well, if I don't score, this team's in trouble.' It's a win, win for everybody.''
Here's a look at the two games on the NHL schedule Thursday night:
Canadiens at Lightning, Game 4, Lightning lead 2-0, 7 p.m. NBC Sports Network
There won't be much time for the teams to recover from Game 3, with Game 4 coming just 24 hours later.
''I can't say I'm a big fan of back to backs, especially in the playoffs,'' Stamkos said. ''But both teams have to play, so it's probably not an advantage to either one.''
Having two days off between Games 2 and 3 drew mixed reviews.
Montreal's R.K. Subban was among the Canadiens saying they were eager to get back on the ice after dropping the first two games of the best of 7 series.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, embraced the extra rest after needing seven games to eliminate Detroit in the previous round, then opening this series on the road.
''The mental rest is what we needed most,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Blackhawks at Wild, Game 4, Blackhawks lead 3-0, 9:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network
The Wild have fallen to 3-11 against the Blackhawks in the playoffs the last three years, having been eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the first round in 2013 and in the second round in 2014 before arriving at the brink in the Western Conference semifinals again this time.
For all the strides the Wild have made, there's a question about whether that burning to desire to finally beat Blackhawks has created a mental roadblock on top of the long list of challenges they're faced with on the ice in this matchup.
''I think the past couple years, maybe we came into this series a little more intimidated, facing the Stanley Cup champs,'' center Kyle Brodziak said. ''The last couple years it was pretty fresh for us, coming into the playoffs. I think we felt that this year was going to be different, the way we were playing and the confidence level we had.''
In NHL history, 180 teams have fallen behind 3-0 in a playoff series. Four of them, including Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles in the first round last year, rallied to advance.
''It wouldn't matter who it was against. When you're down 3-0, it's always a tough spot,'' Wild left wing Zach Parise said. ''We need to play better.''
ONE STEP AHEAD
The Blackhawks haven't trailed in the series. They're 39-10-2 this season, including 4-1 in the playoffs, when scoring first. They're also 29-0-0, including four wins this postseason, with the lead at the second intermission. For all their skating, passing and scoring skills, they're a stingy defensive team, too, that only becomes tougher once they have the lead, as evidenced in the 1-0 win over the Wild in Game 3.
''When you play Minnesota, if you try to score a lot of goals you'll be in their end all night,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''Play smart, safe, reliable, predictable, you're going to have a chance to have some success. But if you start making plays, it leads to trouble.''
Clearly, for the Wild to have a crack at a comeback, they need a more productive first period.
''We actually started great last game. We had, I don't know, three or four scoring chances in the first three or four minutes. It didn't go in, and I think we changed,'' left wing Matt Cooke said. ''We panicked. We worried too much about scoring the first goal and started to take chances.''