DETROIT — Second in the NHL in scoring through 82 regular-season games. Scoreless in three playoff games against the Red Wings.
Superstar goal scorer and top-line center Steven Stamkos tallied 43 goals this season but was held to three shots combined in Games 2 and 3, as the Wings kept the offensive power at bay in their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I mean you gotta know where he’s at,” Wings center Luke Glendening said. “He’s a great player, a great shooter, big time goal scorer. You’re always aware of where he is and you try to keep the puck out of his hands as much as you can but they’ve got a ton of weapons and you’re playing with fire wherever they are.”
One of the team’s biggest penalty killers, Glendening has spent a significant amount of special teams minutes opposite the shot-happy Stamkos. In doing so, the Wings PK has limited Stamkos and the Lightning to a bleak 2-for-17 in the series and 0-for-13 in Detroit's two series wins.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Stamkos said. “Guys are willing to block shots. They’re a team that is always willing to do that. There’s not much space through the middle of the ice. Our D are trying to get some shots through from the top and they’re blocking them, so we have to do a better job at just getting some more pucks on net. I think that’s where we’re most successful. In a series like this, special teams need to be a little better and we’ve worked on that again today, and hopefully that’s the case next game.”
The Wings blocked 10 shots in Game 3 and totaled 48 hits, chewing up space and not allowing players like Stamkos to find much room on the ice. One of the top scorers in the NHL since entering the league in 2008, Stamkos has scored just three goals in his last 13 games dating back to March 22.
The style of play through three games of this series has weighed heavily on the Lightning’s top center, as he was limited to two shots in Game 2 and then one shot in Game 3.
“No, it’s just myself, personally, I’ve got to be better,” Stamkos said. “We talked about it a little bit to take a peek in the mirror and realize what we have to bring to the table in order for ourselves as individuals to give our team a best chance to win. I got to be better. We’ve all got to be better. Not a good game for us the last game, and I think we were able to see it on the video and for us it’s just our willingness to compete. We know we have the skill. We know we have the speed and the intangibles that go along with that. But when we compete we’re a good hockey club and we need to do that next game.”
Coming into the series, the focus was on the Lightning’s offensive depth scoring a league-high 259 goals in the regular season and how the Wings would counter that punch. Being able to fluster Stamkos and keeping Tampa Bay’s leading scorer from producing may have a more lasting effect in terms of momentum.
“Well I mean there’s a reason why you’re looked on as the best players on the team, you have to be good,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. “Playoffs it’s all about a ripple effect in the way you play. One line goes out there, you build some momentum, that just keeps on going. Everyone responds to that and vice versa, if you go out and not really have a great shift, it goes downhill as well. You have to look to your best players, your leaders, to either swing the momentum to your side or at least stop the momentum. I think we have a lot of character and leadership in this group that we can do that. For whatever reason, last game not really anyone stepped up and that’s not really characteristic of our team.”
Limiting Stamkos’ chances and keeping him off the score sheet has provided the Wings with a boost of momentum, claiming a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.
“Stammer wishes he had a goal or two in this series for sure,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Do I think Detroit’s gonna keep him down for the whole series? I don’t. It’s just a matter of time with him and he doesn’t go very long or have these prolonged stretches without scoring or having an impact on the game so I’m not worried at all.”
There isn’t much time left to get going in this first-round series.