Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Bolts scored five goals in the first 40 minutes to take a 2-1 series lead with a, 5-2, victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Victor Hedman had the de facto game-winning goal early in the second period as the Lightning are now just two wins away from their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
Tampa goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (16-6, 1.89 goals against average, .928 save percentage in 22 games this postseason), made 22 saves on 24 shots faced for a .917 SV% in the win, while Dallas netminder, Anton Khudobin (13-8, 2.72 GAA, .918 SV% in 22 games this postseason), was chased after two periods and 24 saves on 29 shots against (.828 SV%).
Jake Oettinger (0-0, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV% in two games this postseason) made three saves on three shots in his relief appearance for the Stars– in just his second career National Hockey League game (both this postseason).
The series shifts to Game 4 inside the bubble on Friday night. Puck drop at Rogers Place is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune to NBC, while those in Canada have their choice between CBC, SN or TVAS for the action.
Stamkos returned to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 25th for the Lightning after having core muscle surgery in mid-March, skating in June, then missing most of the postseason until Wednesday night.
He had a goal in the effort, but also briefly went down the tunnel before returning to the bench and only amassed 2:47 of ice time in Game 3.
Meanwhile, Stamkos replaced Carter Verhaeghe on Tampa’s fourth line as part of Jon Cooper’s only change to his game plan from Game 2 to Game 3.
Stars interim head coach, Rick Bowness, replaced Blake Comeau with Nick Caamano on his fourth line due to Comeau being forced out of the lineup with an injury.
Dallas scratches included Radek Faksa, Comeau, Jason Robertson, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Justin Dowling, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Tampa’s long list of scratches for Game 3 included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Verhaeghe, Zach Bogosian, Scott Wedgewood, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens and Alexander Volkov.
Nikita Kucherov (7) kicked off the game’s scoring with a breakaway goal off of a Miro Heiskanen turnover to give the Lightning a, 1-0, lead at 5:33 of the first period.
About a minute later, Stamkos (1) settled a rolling puck while entering the zone and snapped a shot over Khudobin’s blocker side to give Tampa a pair of goals in a 1:25 span on consecutive shots.
Hedman (9) and Jan Rutta (1) tallied the assists on Stamkos’ goal as the Bolts jumped out to a, 2-0, lead 6:58 into the opening frame.
Less than a couple of minutes later, Erik Cernak tripped up Caamano and presented the Stars with the first power play of the night at 8:13.
Dallas’ skater advantage was short lived, however, as Joel Kiviranta interfered with Anthony Cirelli at 9:34.
After an abbreviated span of 4-on-4 action, Jason Dickinson (2) one-timed a shot past Vasilevskiy on the short side between the blocker and the post to give Dallas a shorthanded goal and cut Tampa’s lead in half, 2-1.
Roope Hintz (11) had the only assist on Dickinson’s goal at 11:19.
Late in the opening frame, Alexander Radulov hooked Blake Coleman and was sent to the sin bin at 19:37 of the first period.
Entering the first intermission, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard despite trailing Dallas, 16-8, in shots on goal.
The Lightning also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-2) and giveaways (7-6), while the Stars led in takeaways (2-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29).
Both teams had 21 hits each after one period, while Tampa was 0/2 and Dallas was 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.
Hedman (10) sent a quick wrist shot past Khudobin on a rebound 54 seconds into the second period to put the Bolts ahead of the Stars by two goals once more, 3-1, as Cirelli (5) and Ondrej Palat (6) collected the assists.
Early in the middle frame, Radulov hooked Mikhail Sergachev at 4:31, but the Lightning weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play.
Stamkos returned to the bench for the second period shortly thereafter, but he did not skate in any of the remaining action in the game.
Midway through the middle period, Brayden Point (11) scored on a 3-on-1 after Tampa caught Dallas on a line change with a forced turnover to make it, 4-1, Lightning at 12:02 of the second period.
Kucherov (23) and Hedman (10) tallied the assists on Point’s goal and the Bolts had a three-goal lead.
Tampa made it a four-goal lead late in the second period when Palat (10) backhanded a garbage goal from point blank on a rebound as Stars defender, Esa Lindell, hacked and missed at the loose puck.
Point (17) and Kevin Shattenkirk (9) notched the helpers on Palat’s goal and the Lightning led, 5-1, at 18:55.
Through 40 minutes of action on Wednesday, Tampa held a, 5-1, lead on the scoreboard and a, 29-20, advantage in shots on goal– including a, 21-4, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.
Tampa also led in blocked shots (8-6), while Dallas held the advantage in giveaways (15-8), hits (41-38) and faceoff win% (56-44) after two periods.
Both teams had three takeaways each, while the Lightning were 1/3 on the skater advantage and the Stars were 0/2 on the power play entering the second intermission.
Bowness opted to change goaltenders ahead of the final frame of regulation– replacing Khudobin with Oettinger and making history in the process as Oettinger became the first goaltender from Boston University to ever appear in a Stanley Cup Final game.
Almost a few minutes into the third period, however, Palat and Mattias Janmark exchanged pleasantries and received roughing minors at 2:58, yielding two minutes of 4-on-4 action.
Less than a minute later, Jamie Benn and Rutta went at it and received roughing minors as well as ten-minute misconducts at 3:38 of the third period.
By that point it became clear that the officials were trying to keep the temperature of the game down– it didn’t last for long.
Prior to another eruption of emotions, however, Heiskanen (6) sent the puck on goal with eyes as the rubber biscuit bounced its way around the Lightning goaltender and into the twine to cut Tampa’s lead to three goals.
Joe Pavelski (6) and Andrew Cogliano (2) recorded the assists on Heiskanen’s goal and the Stars trailed, 5-2, at 6:49 of the third period.
Less than a few minutes later, Shatternkirk slashed Kiviranta, but the Stars weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play.
Dallas got one more chance to muster anything on the skater advantage when Sergachev tripped Hintz at 12:41, but once more Dallas didn’t score on the power play.
In the closing minutes of the game with the final result all but assured, Pavelski, Cedric Paquette, Barclay Goodrow, Pat Maroon, Dickinson and seemingly just about everyone else on the ice at the time exchanged words and more.
Pavelski was assessed a roughing minor as well as a cross checking minor, Paquette, Goodrow and Dickinson each received a roughing minor, while Maroon was handed a misconduct– ending all of the aforementioned players’ nights early at 18:05 of the third period.
At the final horn, Tampa secured the 2-1 series lead with a, 5-2, win in Game 3 on Wednesday.
The Lightning finished the night leading in shots on goal, 32-24, despite trailing the Stars, 4-3, in the third period alone.
The Bolts also finished the game leading in blocked shots (12-9), while the Stars wrapped up the effort lead in giveaways (21-14), hits (59-54) and faceoff win% (55-45).
Tampa finished 1/4 and Dallas went 0/4 on the power play in the effort.
When leading a playoff series 2-1, the Lightning are 10-3 all time.