David Zalubowski/Associated Press
According to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, the Lightning haven’t ruled Stamkos out for the remainder of the series.
Before playing Wednesday, Stamkos hadn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 25 after a core muscle injury required surgery. The NHL season’s hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to return for the Final.
Stamkos played only three minutes in the first period of Game 3 but scored a goal as the Bolts won 5-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Per ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, Stamkos became the first player since 1940 to score a goal while making his first postseason appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
He said after the game: “There’s been a lot of hard work and different things going on behind the scenes. Just to be able to get out into a game and have an impact on a game, which a month ago may have never been possible … I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”
Stamkos also noted he was dealing with an “issue” and that it was “too early” to tell if he would be able to play in Game 4.
His absence means the Lightning will once again be without one of the NHL’s most dynamic offensive players. However, they reached the Final without him and won Game 2 with him in the press box as well.
Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point will once again be Tampa’s go-to offensive players as they have been throughout the playoffs. They have combined for 58 points during the postseason and are chiefly responsible for the Bolts’ deep run.
Defenseman Victor Hedman (20 points) and forward Ondrej Palat (16 points) will also merit focus in the Stars’ defensive game plan.
Neither the Lightning nor the Stars can win the Cup on Friday, so it’s still possible Stamkos could play later in the series.
Even if Stamkos doesn’t see the ice again this season, his return after injuries and setbacks likely provided the Lightning with a big boost.