Stanley Cup Final Game 3 takeaways: Stamkos return keys lopsided Lightning victory


Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final saw the long-awaited return of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. In true storybook fashion, Stamkos scored on his first shot (he skated only 2:47 for the game), and his team overwhelmed the Dallas Stars en route to a 5-2 victory. Tampa Bay now leads the series two games to one.

Miss any of the game? We’re here with the top takeaways as we look ahead to Game 4 on Friday.

More: Click here for the entire Stanley Cup Final schedule.

Stanley Cup Final Game 3 in 10 words or less

Stamkos on your fourth line seems like an unfair advantage.

The favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP had a goal and two assists for the Lightning, with points on their second, third and fourth goals. His power-play tally ended up being the game-winning goal. Hedman now has 10 goals and 10 assists for the playoffs, and again was a steadying presence in all facets of the victory.

What worked for Tampa Bay?

This was one of most inspired efforts from the Lightning that we’ve seen from them in the playoffs, and that inspiration started with the return of captain Steven Stamkos from injury. The star forward hadn’t played since February due to a pair of injuries, including one suffered in training camp before the season restart. From the moment he stepped back into the ice, you could tell the Lightning had some extra jump. After he scored their second goal, you could tell Tampa Bay was locked in.

Scoring five goals is expected when the Bolts are on their game, but it’s the Lightning’s defense that doesn’t get enough credit when they’re rolling like this. To wit: This is the 10th time in 12 playoff games that the Lightning have held their opponent to under three goals.

What didn’t work for Dallas?

Mistakes, mistakes and mistakes. The Stars managed not to take three penalties in the first period, but instead took three of them in the first 24:31 of Game 3 — continuing the undisciplined play they’ve had since the third period of Game 1. The first and third Tampa goals were scored following Dallas turnovers. The fourth was scored on perhaps the most hapless line change of the series.

Give the Lightning credit: When you’re coming at your opponent in waves, good things are going to happen. But these are the kinds of errors the Stars didn’t make against the Vegas Golden Knights, and the kinds of miscues that oxygenate the Lightning’s offensive fire. “We have to stay out of the box if we want to win these games,” said captain Jamie Benn.

The goals

Tampa Bay 1-0: Nikita Kucherov (unassisted), 5:33, first period

Your heart breaks for Miro Heiskanen, who is having a star-making playoff for Dallas. He was pressured by Lightning forward Ondrej Palat, and tried to spin-pass the puck out of danger. Alas, he lost his edge and fell to the ice, and that pass landed directly on the stick of Kucherov. To the surprise of no one, the guy with 74 goals in his last 150 games scored on a breakaway for this seventh of the playoffs.

Tampa Bay 2-0: Steven Stamkos (Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta), 6:58, first period

Here’s your moment for the commemorative Blu-Ray. Stamkos played 2:47 in Game 3, but scored a goal on his third shift of the postseason. He snapped a shot past Anton Khudobin, following a great Hedman pass to launch him. It was the 24th playoff goal of his career.

Dallas 2-1: Jason Dickinson (Roope Hintz), 11:19, first period, shorthanded

With Joel Kiviranta in the penalty box for interference, Hintz made a good pass that Dickinson snapped home on a one-timer. Andrei Vasilevskiy was either guessing incorrectly or leaning the wrong way, but Dickinson caught him for his second goal of the playoffs.

Tampa Bay 3-1: Victor Hedman (Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat), 10:54, second period, power play

Great forechecking from Palat and Cirelli here. Palat’s stick check disrupted Dallas defenseman Andrej Sekera‘s clearing attempt. Then Cirelli won a battle against a pair of Stars penalty killers to feed the puck to Hedman, who was all alone in the slot for his 10th of the playoffs. He now trails only Paul Coffey (12) and Brian Leetch (11) for most playoff goals by a defenseman in a single postseason.

Tampa Bay 4-1: Brayden Point (Anthony Cirelli and Victor Hedman), 12:02, second period

Just an absolute nightmare change by the Stars led to the Lightning’s fourth goal of the night. There were four Dallas players near their bench as Tampa entered the attacking zone, with only Esa Lindell back as a last line of defense,. Point cashed in on a 3-on-1 for his NHL-leading 11th goal of the postseason.

Tampa Bay 5-1: Ondrej Palat (Brayden Point and Kevin Shattenkirk), 18:55, second period

It was 5-on-5 but looked like a power play for Tampa, ending with Palat scoring from a short pass in front from Point for his 10th goal of the postseason. If Khudobin’s night wasn’t already over, Palat’s goal stuck a fork in him. (As opposed to a sword in him, which is what happens in Vegas.)

Dallas 5-2: Miro Heiskanen (Joe Pavelski and Andrew Cogliano), 6:49, third period

A very weird one, as a bouncing puck from a Heiskanen shot eluded Vasilevskiy. Hedman had a chance to clear the puck out of the crease, but whiffed on it.

Ouches of the night

Alexander Radulov attempted to deliver a hit behind the Stars’ net on Blake Coleman, and played only three shifts in the third period due in part to this crash.

No one on the bench was safe either:

Denis Gurianov was hit with a puck while on the bench, and left with a bloody mouth.

Celebration of the night

That feeling when your captain hasn’t played since Feb. 25 and scored a goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Big Question for Game 4: Does Anton Khudobin have another dominant performance in him?

The Dallas Stars goalie looked like he was cruising to the Conn Smythe Trophy after his 35-save performance in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. In the six periods since then, Khudobin has an .867 save percentage, giving up eight goals. His defense and his teammates’ discipline have done him no favors, but at this point in the series, the Stars could use another game-stealing performance in Game 4.

That’s all assuming that Khudobin plays in Game 4, considering the back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. “If he decides to play me in Game 4, I will be ready,” said Khudobin after the game.

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