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Conference Final

Stamkos aims to keep Lightning power play on target in Game 4

Center has three goals on man-advantage from same spot against Capitals

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

WASHINGTON -- The obstacles were in Steven Stamkos' way when the Tampa Bay Lightning center wound up for a one-timer from the left face-off circle Tuesday.

Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen was in position to block the shot. Goaltender Braden Holtby was set, square to Stamkos, ready to make the save.

Stamkos still scored.

"Sometimes, it's just a case of the puck going where you want it to go," the Lightning captain said, "and going in the net."

 

[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

It has been going in for Stamkos lately from that same spot, once in each of the past three games in fact, including at 13:53 of the first period in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final to give the Lightning a one-goal lead.

His shot whizzed by Niskanen and Holtby and went screaming into the top right corner, a spot a handful of players in the world could hit from where he was standing. It was Stamkos' League-leading fifth power-play goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Tampa Bay went on to defeat Washington 4-2 to cut the Capitals lead in the best-of-7 series to 2-1.

Game 4 is at Capital One Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"It's no different than [Capitals forward Alex] Ovechkin, there are some guys that have their spots and they can score from them," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Some nights the shots are getting blocked and the goalie is getting them, but the reason those two [Stamkos and Ovechkin] in particular are special players is because it doesn't matter how you defend them, they can find a way. Niskanen was over there, Holtby was set, and he still found a way."

Video: TBL@WSH, Gm3: Stamkos blasts one-timer for PPG

Stamkos, with nine points (five goals, four assists) during a six-game point streak, is confident he'll find a way to score again from the same spot in Game 4. He wants the puck because he's feeling it. He thinks he's going to score every time he shoots now because of that feeling.

"If you've had success doing it, especially in recent games, when you're in that situation, you want to shoot it," Stamkos said. "You have a feeling, 'You know what, when is the goal going to come,' instead of, 'I hope this goes in,' or 'I hope I catch this clean.' There's a sense of confidence for sure. … You just try to ride that."

Stamkos, 28, had to rediscover his confidence to start riding it the way he is now.

His three power-play goals off one-timers from the left face-off circle in the past three games equal the amount of power-play goals he scored off one-timers from that spot in his previous 50 games, including the final 40 of the regular season.

Stamkos, like the Lightning overall, got off to a torrid start on the power play during the regular season. He had a League-high 12 power-play goals through 38 games by Jan. 1. Nine came off one-timers from the left circle, including five off a pass from forward Nikita Kucherov and four off a pass from defenseman Victor Hedman. The other three were wrist shots from the left circle.

What made it even more impressive is Stamkos was scoring despite trying to be more of a playmaker, a distributor, than a shooter. That worked for him, too; he had 12 power-play assists by New Year's Day.

"But I've always seen myself as a shoot-first kind of guy," Stamkos said.

His mentality didn't help him score in the second half of the season. He had three power-play goals after Jan. 1, all on one-timers from the left circle, tied for fourth on the Lightning and tied for 76th in the League.

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm2: Stamkos blasts PPG past Holtby

"I was on myself a little bit wanting to shoot the puck more and just be more assertive when I had the opportunity to shoot," Stamkos said.

But the puck wasn't going in, and by the time Stamkos got down to the last 15 games of the season he was just trying to get through to the playoffs. He had a lower-body injury and sat out the last three games of the regular season.

"It was just realizing you want to be ready for the playoffs and feeling confident again," he said. "I know the shot is always going to be there."

It took a while for him to find it in the playoffs, too. He scored a power-play goal on a wrist shot in Game 3 of the first round against the New Jersey Devils and he had an empty-net power-play goal from the red line in Game 3 of the second round against the Boston Bruins.

But he has found it now, a time when he says he feels great physically and his confidence is soaring, a time when the Lightning need his shot more than ever, and a time when they are enjoying success with the man-advantage; they're 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) on the power play through three games against the Capitals.

"Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't," Stamkos said, "but it's nice to see when they go in, especially at this time of the year, when everything is under the microscope."

***

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