Steven Stamkos stepped into a time machine of sorts when he hopped on Tampa Bay’s ice Wednesday night.
The Lightning star forward, who has battled injuries over the past 11 months, returned to action and looked like his old self in the season opener, scoring a goal and banking two assists in a dominant 5-1 victory over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.
As the teams prepare to conclude their two-game series Friday in Florida, much of the talk is about the play of the defending Stanley Cup champions’ captain. (Blackhawks at Tampa Bay, Friday, January 15, 5:30pm, WGN Radio 720 and our digital streams – https://wgnradio.com/on-air/)
The three-point night by Stamkos, 30, was a familiar sight.
By zipping home a missile on the power play in the second period for a 4-0 lead and helping on goals by linemates Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat, Stamkos produced his 237th game with multiple points.
The two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner and six-time All-Star had last played a full game against Toronto on Feb. 25. After core muscle surgery, he came back and logged 2:47 of ice time in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against Dallas on Sept. 23 — scoring a goal in a 5-2 win — in his lone postseason appearance.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Stamkos said. “It was nice to get out there. Playing with Point and Palat makes life a little easier for sure. I haven’t played a lot of hockey for a long time, so it was a good start.”
Coach Jon Cooper has to replace sidelined superstar Nikita Kucherov (hip surgery) for the entire regular season, and he said he was glad to see the familiar No. 91 set up in the left circle on the power play.
“Goal scorers are used to scoring goals,” Cooper said. “I was really happy that he was able to score tonight because you put him back in, and in a power-play spot he hasn’t been in for a while, and it’s a confidence thing, and so the sooner he can get it, the better.”
The Blackhawks will need to regroup in a hurry, primarily on the back end and in goal.
Chicago was outshot 33-23 as the Lightning put constant pressure on goaltender Malcolm Subban. He allowed all five goals, but Subban turned in a couple of highlight-reel saves that prevented the outcome from being much worse.
“He made some good saves,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Obviously five go in, he’s not going to be happy.
“Certainly not the way we wanted to start the year. Gave up too many chances and too many goals.”
The Lightning have won nine of their past 10 regular-season meeting with the Blackhawks, with Chicago’s lone win coming in a 5-2 decision at Tampa Bay last Feb. 27.
Chicago will continue to be without injured forwards Kirby Dach (wrist surgery) and Jonathan Toews (illness), who were placed on long-term injured reserve Thursday.
–Field Level Media