MONTREAL – Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper couldn’t decide which was better on Sunday: captain Steven Stamkos ending his scoring drought or the Lightning’s power play breaking out of a slump.
It’s not a bad problem to have.
"I don’t know if it was more relief for me that [Stamkos] scored or the power play scored," Cooper said after the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-2 to take a 2-0 lead in Eastern Conference Second Round series at Bell Centre.
"It was a whole compilation of Alka Seltzer."
Stamkos scored his first goal of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Lightning power play, which was 2-for-34 in the playoffs and 0-for-16 on the road, was 4-for-8 in the win.
With the game tied 1-1 in the second period, Stamkos grabbed a pass up the middle and broke in on Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. He faked to his backhand and tucked a forehand in at 8:06 and the Lightning never looked back.
Stamkos spread his arms and had a big smile as he celebrated with teammates.
"It was definitely a release of some things that have been building up," Stamkos said. "It was nice to go in. Whether it was my first or my 20th, at that time of the game to go up, your emotions are running high. Any time you score a goal in the playoffs, it’s exciting. That one, a little more so than other ones, I’ve scored. It was nice to see that one go in."
"I think I saw a replay of him when he went in the corner after he scored and it just looked like relief," Cooper said. "It was just a weight off his shoulders. It was well documented he hadn’t scored.
"It’s not like Stammer got the 6-2 goal. It’s a 1-1 game, it’s a battle and he gets you the 2-1 goal. That’s what you need in your guy. You need the big goal and he got it for us at a big moment in the game when we were trying to take the crowd out of it and the big guy had a big goal."
Center - TBL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 6
SOG: 27 | +/-: 4
Stamkos showed his good hands later when Canadiens forward Brandon Prust
threw his elbow pad into the Lightning bench after fighting with Tampa Bay’s Braydon Coburn
with two minutes left in the game. Coburn and Prust fought after Prust got involved with Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop
Stamkos turned and threw the elbow pad to a fan in the seats behind the bench.
"I thought I made a pretty good catch," Stamkos said. "I definitely didn’t expect that coming. I mean, [Prust’s] a fiery guy, he’s a competitor, for the most part he plays between the lines. That’s twice he’s run our goalie now. That’s frustration on their part. We want to take care of the wins.
"I’m not sure if [the fan] got to keep it or not but they were pretty excited about getting a game-used elbow pad, I don’t know why," Stamkos said. "That was just kind of fun out there."
The Tampa Bay power play definitely had fun and took advantage of a string of penalties by an undisciplined Canadiens team.
Nikita Kucherov scored twice and Valtteri Filppula and Victor Hedman also scored with the man advantage.
Right Wing - TBL
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7
SOG: 22 | +/-: 5
Kucherov had the game-winner during a 4-on-3 power play at 12:29 of the second period when Cooper put four forwards on the ice; in addition to Kucherov, Cooper deployed Stamkos, Tyler Johnson
and Ondrej Palat
"We took advantage of our power plays today," Stamkos said. "It was nice to see. That’s been struggling for a while so I think that third goal was kind of a dagger to get that one 4-on-3."
Having Stamkos and the power play break out is a huge turn of events for the Lightning, who head home to Amalie Arena with a 2-0 series lead.
"Tonight hopefully will be the start of something good, some confidence," Stamkos said.
"This game is about confidence. You score a goal and all of a sudden, nothing has changed but your legs feel lighter, you feel better with the puck, things are starting to bounce your way, that’s just the way this game goes. When you have the confidence, it’s not easy to get, and it’s easy to lose. So when you got it, you want to keep it as long as you can and hopefully I can do that."