Pop quiz. Since the 2010-11 season, which player on the current Tampa Bay Lightning roster has the most career playoff points? In truth, it’s a trick question with two correct answers. Both Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kuchervov have scored 42 points in the postseason, placing them at the top of the Lightning’s scoring charts.
Many would have answered Steven Stamkos. This makes sense because he is an elite offensive talent and the face of the franchise. However, Stamkos has had relative struggles throughout his career in the postseason. In 49 games, he has 35 points, placing him fourth on the list just two points ahead of Alex Killorn.
Stamkos Lacking in the Playoffs
It’s not that Stamkos doesn’t play well in the postseason, it’s that he never seems to score when the Lightning need him most. For example, during the 2015 run to the Stanley Cup Final, it took Stamkos nine games to register his first goal of the playoffs.
While it was arguably the prettiest postseason score in Stamkos’ career, it came after a seven-game series against the Detroit Red Wings, in which the Lightning had to rely on Johnson to bail them out of 3-2 series deficit.
Stamkos would go on to register six more goals before disappearing against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. In that series, he only posted one assist and was invisible on the ice. Had he contributed more than just one point in six games, the Lightning might have walked away with the Stanley Cup.
Injuries Have Limited Stamkos’ Postseason Potential
Stamkos has struggled with injuries that have limited his play. For example, when the Lightning returned to the playoffs in 2015, they did so without him. After suffering a blood clot at the end of the season, he missed all but one postseason game, returning to play in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In that game, he was a shell of himself, logging only 11 minutes of ice time in the loss.
This injury was just one of many Stamkos has experienced throughout his postseason career. In 2011, he took a puck to the face in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins, removing his goal-scoring potential in a game the team lost by one score. In 2014, he played on a repaired leg after missing the majority of the regular season which affected his play and the team was swept by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1.
Since he is entering the 2018 postseason with injury concerns looming over his head, there are reasons to be worried that Stamkos will be limited this year as well. Should he re-aggravate this injury in the opening round against the New Jersey Devils, the Lightning could be without their captain for the rest of the postseason.
Lightning Need Stamkos on the Ice
Even when he isn’t scoring the goals, Stamkos’ presence on the ice can cause match-up issues for the opposition, especially now that he is paired with an elite shooter in Kucherov. Opposing teams have to play their top defensive players when the Stamkos line is on since they can make those perfect passes in order to score a game-breaking goal. This allows the second and third lines behind him to have better match-ups and potentially put up more points in the process.
When he’s not available, the Lightning must shift around their centers, mixing chemistry along the way. This puts players like Johnson and Brayden Point into positions where they have to face better defenses with linemates they are not accustomed to playing with, which then limits their scoring potential. Given that the Lightning were in an offensive slump to end the season, any additional slowdown in scoring could have a devastating effect on the team.
Lightning Need a Productive, Healthy Stamkos
It’s not that the Lightning can’t be successful without Stamkos on the ice. Even without his presence, they are a squad that can score with the best in the league. However, his production is crucial for the Bolts to succeed. When he is scoring in the playoffs they win games. They have a 9-4 record when their captain scores a goal in the postseason.
If the Lighting are going to find success in the playoffs this year, they need Stamkos to be more than just their captain. He has to be an on-ice leader by producing goals, whether they are scored by himself or his line, in order to take some of the pressure off the rest of the team. If he struggles, the Lightning may not escape the first round, let alone return to the Stanley Cup Final.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.