NEW YORK -- Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos finished second in the NHL regular season with 43 goals, then had none in the first eight games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite that, the Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, and Stamkos has been unstoppable since, scoring a goal in six of his past seven games, including one with an assist in a 2-0 win in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7-series.
Stamkos has four goals and three assists in the series, and seven goals and 14 points in his past 10 games.
"I am definitely more confident now than I was the first eight games, no question, but I think for me, it was a great adversity test," said Stamkos, who scored a power-play goal at 18:22 of the second period to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead. "Our team was winning, which was great. … But I knew I was playing the right way, and when you play the right way, things are going to start going your way."
Stamkos went from his natural position of center to wing when he was struggling.
"We switched some things up," he said. "… The power play has gotten a lot better, too, where you get a couple of goals, you get a couple of points there, now you're feeling a little better."
Stamkos trailed Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who had 53 goals in the regular season. It was Stamkos' fourth 40-goal season.
"The spotlight is on you so often that everybody just expects greatness all the time," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "To become great, you do fail sometimes. And he's great. But you don't get there by just success. Stammer, not that he's failed, but he gets criticized when he doesn't score a goal.
"As the playoffs has gone on, Stammer just continues to rise to the occasion. … Stammer unselfishly moved to the wing [and] he's taken off, and you've got to really respect the captain for putting the team first. I think his play has elevated because of it."
One win away from the Stanley Cup Final, Stamkos said he hopes the Lightning play better than they did in Games 4 and 5 against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Second Round, when they had a chance to clinch the series but were outscored 8-3 in two losses before winning Game 6.
Game 5 is at Amalie Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"Before it was two, now it's one win away from the Finals," Stamkos said. "I think we realize that, but at the same time, I think this playoffs, we've had a big emotional win and we've kind of had a letdown game. I think we learned our lesson pretty quickly. The toughest one to win is the fourth one, especially at this time of year."
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Author: David Satriano | NHL.com Staff Writer