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Steven Stamkos’ short-lived Stanley Cup return meant everything to Lightning

The highly anticipated return of captain Steven Stamkos was so close to being something out of a fairytale for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It had been 211 days since Stamkos last played in a game. After undergoing surgery on March 2 to repair a core muscle injury, which had an initial recovery timeline of six-to-eight weeks, the 30-year-old re-aggravated the injury during Phase 2 voluntary workouts with the team over the summer. He’s had at least one setback since then.

Stamkos made his 2020 playoff debut in the Lightning’s 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night, helping his team take a 2-1 series lead with a goal on the first shot he took.

But the storybook narrative took a turn when Stamkos appeared to be consulting with a team trainer on the bench after just five shifts before he was glued to the bench for the final two periods. He registered less than three minutes of ice time, all in the first period, and was late coming out of the locker room after the first intermission.

“There’s been a lot of hard work and different things going on behind the scenes,” Stamkos told reporters after the game. “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.”

Steven Stamkos Lightning Stanley Cup Final
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos celebrates after scoring a goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.Getty Images

After the game, Stamkos said he experienced an “issue” and that it was “too early” to decide if he would be available to play in Game 4 Friday. The injury has been designated only as “lower body.”

“There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things I can share with you after the season,” he said. “But I’m focused on winning right now, and tonight was a step in the right direction.”

Stamkos put the Lightning up 2-0 following a slick move along the boards to avoid the check by Stars defenseman Esa Lindell before sniping one past goalie Anton Khudobin. Cameras caught the emphatic reaction from the Tampa Bay bench as they watched Stamkos score on his first shot since February.

“I think that the cheer was just a little bit louder,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You watch the kid, what he’s done for the last, god, how many months? And for him to be able to do that, I don’t know. I think however Stammer was feeling at that moment, all the players expressed it on the bench.”

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