Stamkos returns in Lighting’s opening victory

by Gary Shelton on October 7, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos shadowed by Alex Petrovich in his return game./CARMEN MANDATO

Stamkos shadowed by Alex Petrovich in his return game./CARMEN MANDATO

Saturday, 2 a.m.

The puck was coming, just the way it used to it when the world was young, back when Steven Stamkos was somebody.

The pass from Alex Killorn was headed his way on the power play, and Stamkos coiled his body, the way he always has. If the puck was in his wheelhouse, he would have snapped off a quick shot. Instead, it was a tick off, and Stamkos flicked a pass to Vlad Namestnikov, who filled the net with it.

He was back. After almost a season, after 65 games, after rebuilding a knee, Steven Stamkos was a hockey player once more.

“I was looking forward to this game for a while,” Stamkos said. “Training camp

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Vasilevskiy won his first season opener./CARMEN MANDATO

Vasilevskiy won his first season opener./CARMEN MANDATO

is one thing and preseason is another. Getting into the regular season is something else. It was a good step. I have to keep improving and getting strong.”

For a flash there when it was 2-2 in the Lightning's 5-3 victory over the Florida Panthers, it seemed the Bolts might stumble as much as step. They took a 2-0 lead – coach Jon Cooper wondered if his team deserved it – and then lost it. It was 2-2 going into the third period.

Point had a goal and an assist for the Lightning./CARMEN MANDATO

Point had a goal and an assist for the Lightning./CARMEN MANDATO

And then the puck was on Stamkos' stick.

Just like the old days.

"I knew I had Vladdy as a second option," Stamkos said. "It was kind of funny because we were working on that the other day at practice, him just being in that position where he can just get the heel of his stick on it and it just goes in. It was nice to see it work”

Stamkos was given a rousing welcome by the crowd, which had obviously missed him.

“It wasn't our best effort by far,” Stamkos said. “These wins mean a lot. We talked about how important it was to get points. There were spurts when we didn't play that well. We took advantage of a big power play to get the lead and held onto it. We'll look to improve. Sometimes, it's nerves and jitters when you're playing in front of your home fans. Well chalk it up to that.

“We found a way to win. It was great. I don't want to make a habit of coming back from

Namestnikov scored the tiebreaking goal./CARMEN MANDATO

Namestnikov scored the tiebreaking goal./CARMEN MANDATO

injury. But these fans are amazing. Knowing how long the fans have been waiting for hockey that meant something was important.”

For all of the attention to the return of Stamkos, it was the Lightning's line of Andre Palat, Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point that led the way. Palat had two goals and Point had a goal and two assists.

“They were fantastic,” Stamkos said. “I don't think I need to go into detail. It was pretty evident watching the game how good they were. They pound the puck, they make great plays, and they're all smart players. That line carried us and played extremely well.”

Said Cooper: “They were our best line. They were playing against an exceptional line.”

Kucherov scored his first goal of the season in the win./CARMEN MANDATO

Kucherov scored his first goal of the season in the win./CARMEN MANDATO

Point said the team didn't skate well when the Panthers caught up.

“We just had to get back to skating. I think we stopped for a bit there, and we started turning pucks over and they were capitalizing. We talked about it in between periods and started to play simple. Pucks went in and we got a lot passed their defense.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 33 shots. Clearly, starting on opening night didn't bother him.

“When he was 21 years old, he played in the Stanley Cup Finals in the United Center, so this is probably a walk in the park for him. But he was composed. The more you watch him play, you just get that feeling of, ‘Wow, this guy is going to be hard to score on.’ He was looking like that in the preseason, and he definitely carried that into tonight.”

“We battled. Florida is good. They’ve got a good team. Kind of a theme of our preseason is that I thought we got better as the game went on. The power play came up big when we needed it to in the third and it took a little weight off our shoulders. We really played well, earned the fourth goal.”

 

The Bolts are home Monday night against the Washinton Capitals.

Palat and Stralman celebrate a goal./CARMEN MANDATO

Palat and Stralman celebrate a goal./CARMEN MANDATO

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