TAMPA -- Standing behind the play, watching everything develop, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman's first reaction was to raise his arms. And why wouldn't he?
Center - TBL
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 18
SOG: 63 | +/-: 2
Hedman saw Steven Stamkos
, one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL, with the puck on his stick in the slot, staring at a wide-open net, with 1:13 remaining in the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at United Center.
Hedman had to think it was a guarantee, a sure goal. Everyone on the Lightning bench was thinking the same thing. Heck, even Stamkos had to have that thought too.
"Everybody on our bench, right when the puck went on his stick, jumped up, started celebrating," Tampa Bay defenseman Matthew Carle said Thursday. "You bury your head in your hands in disbelief knowing it didn't go in. Knowing [Stamkos], something must have happened where it got tipped. He doesn't miss those."
Carle is right. Stamkos' shot nicked the stick of Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook and went wide to the left. It was reminiscent of a shot by Rick Nash of the New York Rangers in overtime of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final last year ricocheting off the shaft of the stick of Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and going wide.
Stamkos had another Grade A chance from the slot turned aside by Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford 22 seconds later. The Blackhawks won the game 2-1 to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2 going into Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"I'll be honest, I don't know how one of those didn't go in," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
That's because goal-scorers typically score on those plays. When they don't, the rare times that does indeed happen, there is only one explanation:
"Just bad, bad bounces, puck luck, whatever you want to call it," Stamkos said.
He's getting another taste of it in the Stanley Cup Final, the way he tasted it in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings (zero goals in seven games) and in the first round last season against the Montreal Canadiens (two goals in Game 1, zero in Games 2-4).
Stamkos is doing everything he can to keep his head up, to not be frustrated. But even that attitude can go only so far. After his media obligations were complete Wednesday, Stamkos took the tape that he peeled off of his legs, the tape holding up his shin pads, and threw it in disgust.
That was it, though. He knows his role on the Lightning is to be a leader, which means leading by example, which means show no signs of weakness. He is being tested, but he's passing.
"Nope, not frustrated," Stamkos said. "I mean, it's going to go [if] I just stick with it. If I had those two chances over again I'd try to get it away as quick as I could. The first one, their 'D' got a stick on it. Not much I can do. The looks are coming. Our game is right there. They're eventually going to start going in, hopefully in bunches."
That he's getting chances is the first sign any goal-scorer looks for. No chances means you have no chance. Getting chances means you can stay positive even if you want to tear up the scoresheet with the zero next to your name.
That's how Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise felt in 2012, when he was in the Stanley Cup Final with the New Jersey Devils. He was getting chances and feeling good about his game, but he couldn't buy a goal.
It tears you up inside, Parise said, but it also allows you to keep a sense of optimism that things are going to change.
"At least for [Stamkos'] sake they're 2-2 right now; we were down 3-1 and I had zero," Parise told NHL.com during a phone interview Thursday. "That's the way it goes. I mean, it stinks, and of course as a scorer you feel that it's so hard to get [to the Cup Final] and when you get there you want to do well, you want to produce. When you get there and it doesn't happen it's frustrating, but you have to understand that's just the way it goes.
"Wide-open net, it hits Seabrook's stick, that's hockey."
One of the hardest things for a player of Stamkos' stature, or Parise's for that matter, is to not get caught up in perception, because perception doesn't always match reality.
Just because people are talking about you not scoring doesn't mean you're not playing well.
Stamkos has 11 shots on goal in the series. He is getting his chances, more than just the two he had at the end of Game 4. He is hitting, forechecking, making plays. He's playing a strong game. No one is debating that.
"Everyone talks about Marian Hossa … one of my favorite all time players," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "Hossa backchecks hard. He works hard without the puck. [Stamkos] is becoming that. [Stamkos] is working very, very hard without the puck. You see him finishing his checks. You see that intensity.
"All elite players, [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews are probably the same thing. We expect more, we expect to score. They all expect to score. Sometimes you give the opposition credit. The guys are making a lot of money over there; [they are] paid to shut you down."
But Stamkos is making a lot of money to score. He hasn't done that yet in the Final.
"You definitely leave the rink frustrated and angry," Parise said.
Parise added that the only thing Stamkos can do is park it and move on. Game 5 offers him another opportunity to bust out. That's the beauty of a playoff series.
"All of a sudden he'll show up at Game 5 at home, snap two in, everything is forgotten and then he's a clutch player again," Parise said. "He's a great player. You hang on your hat on if you're getting chances it's going to go in."
So that's what Stamkos is doing. He might be frustrated, but he hasn't lost his belief.
"No one said this was going to be easy," Stamkos said. "It's not easy to win the Stanley Cup."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl