Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan
When: 7:00 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Fox Sports Florida, NBC Sports Net (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Winging it in Motown, Abel to Yzerman
It's a theme that's been followed before in the Tampa Bay (nee St. Petersburg) Times when the Tampa Bay Lightning is in a bind: fixate on the big name players and say they have to score and score more. In the recent past, it had been Gary Shelton laying it on Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to do that leadership thing offensively (though they were producing at the time). Secondary scoring be damned, the guys wearing the "C" and "A" had to be the guys running the score sheet.
Now, it's Steven Stamkos who is put in the crosshairs by Tom Jones. Perhaps you saw reference to the article in Quick Strikes this morning? Jones wants Stamkos to step up and step up now:
This is why you're here. This is why you were drafted first overall. These are the moments when you get to prove you are truly one of the elite players in the world.
You are a franchise player. Now go out and save the franchise.
That's right; the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise will be revoked by the NHL if Steven Stamkos doesn't score! In fact, unless Stamkos scores tonight, Tampa Bay as a region will disappear from the face of the globe and all will be lost. It'll be so bad that you won't see Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa or Han Solo in the new Star Wars film... Nope, without a Stammer goal you'll see Jar-Jar Binks and the film subtitle "The Force Awakens" will prove to be reference to the force of your raging bile duct. Help us, Steven Stamkos, you're our only hope!
There's something that's got to be made clear with sports in Tampa Bay right now, and the remainder is in part inspired by the last few months of hysteria tied to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers having the #1 overall draft pick in the NFL draft. The local press has set one narrative when the truth is the opposite: One player isn't the team. No matter how high profile or how good that one player is, he isn't everything. Success or failure lies with the members on the field of play, their coaching staff and management who put that team together just as much as it matters with a single, highest of high caliber players. It doesn't matter how much a single guy embodies skill, he's one cog in a complex machine that churns out a win or a loss while in operation.
Last time I checked the Lightning employs 19 players on the game-night roster: a goalie, 12 forwards, 6 defensemen. Of those 19, 6 at a time are competing (unless penalties reduce that number) that have to work as a cohesive unit to not only score but prevent the opposition from scoring. The Detroit Red Wings are getting that done - working as a unit - as they're playing bigger than one player.
Yet, in this town brought up on high school and college football fixation, it's a one-player team and damnit! The big name guy has to do it all because everyone else isn't as big in reputation as he is!
Last time I checked, Nikita Kucherov has been pretty potent on offense for the Lightning and hasn't produced a goal in the playoffs. Is the franchise screwed if Kucherov doesn't score? He's not that potent in the Jones piece by way of the hype machine. No, he can't be good because he's Russian. How about that Victor Hedman guy on defense? Oh, that's right, the common voiced opinion is that he's too soft and therefore expectations of anything from him are outlandish. You can't put any faith in the likes of Vladdy Namestnikov or Cedric Paquette to light the lamp... No, no, secondary scoring? Pssh. It can't do the job, in no way could a former 1st round draft pick like Namestnikov contribute offensively and "save the franchise."
And forget about Ben Bishop actually stopping the Wings shots on goal. The only thing that matters is Steven Stamkos leading the charge offensively or we're all destined to die a horrible cheese-coated, hype-induced death.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning fall to Detroit tonight, fire and brimstone will not rain down upon the land and North Korea topple Washington D.C. It'll put the Lightning in a 3-1 hole and it'll hurt thinking the club is on the brink of another 1st round playoff elimination, but don't put everything on one player with expectations or blame in the end. It's a team game. That aspect is what bred success this season - Stamkos didn't carry the Lightning roster, he was part of the roster's success while lifting people up behind the scenes as well as on ice.
Stamkos wants to score, you know he does... So does Brian Boyle for that matter, and Ryan Callahan, Paquette and Ondrej Palat too. They're all capable of it, as is J.T. Brown. How well everybody performs on ice together is what will determine if that happens or not.
Vinny and Marty, and those teams with Richards and Modin and Boyle from the by-gone days of team history, had the pressure spread pretty good. Even when it was down to just Marty and Vinny, pressure was shared and the media spotlight wasn't applied to one player to do it all. In that way, I lament for Stamkos even with success. It's lonely at the top, but it's even lonelier when you are put in the crosshairs as the guy who needs to "save the franchise."
Relocation or franchise revocation isn't a threat if the Bolts lose. Disappointment is, along with more bad writing that attempts to get you worked up for game 5. Yet if the Lightning wins tonight, if that happens without Stamkos lighting the lamp or even getting an assist, you can't expect Jones to write a piece lauding the depth of this club. Depth doesn't work people into a tizzy as well as applying a stigma to the team captain does.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter