In an NHL roundtable discussion Steven Stamkos did with Rick Nash and Drew Doughty for the 2015 All-Star game in Columbus, the star center admitted that there are games when players are just waiting for the clock to run out*:
“Those are the ones you say, ‘Let’s go out and win the third.’”
One of those games happened on March 18th, 2010, against the Buffalo Sabres. The Lightning had been hanging around the playoff race up until a home series midway through March. ven with a middling roster featuring names like Todd Fedoruk, Paul Szczechura, Brandon Bochenski and the corpse of Mark Parrish, they had fashioned a 28-27-12 record mostly on the backs of Stamkos (51 goals) Marty St. Louis (94 points) and Vincent Lecavalier (70 points).
Unfortunately, their offense deserted them on this homestand as they lost the first game to the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1. They followed that up with another 2-1 loss, this time to Arizona as Ilya Bryzgalov had a “humongous big” game, stopping 27 of 28 shots.
Then came Jason Pominville and the Buffalo Sabres. By the time the first period was over, Buffalo had scored three times and Pominville recorded two of them. Derek Roy added a fourth goal in the second period and the game was all but over.
The Lightning finally solved Ryan Miller eight minutes into the third period. Stamkos collected a rebound in front of the Sabres’ goaltender and cut to his right. Everyone thought the 40-goal scorer would try to tuck it past Miller, but instead Stamkos backhanded a pass toward Steve Downie. The rugged winger managed to chip it into the empty net.
Nine minutes later, Tampa Bay narrowed the deficit to two when Lecavalier scored on the power play. Again, Stamkos had a hand in the goal. With the extra man, Stamkos found himself on the point instead of his normal spot in the left circle. He found Lecavalier all alone in the right circle and slid him a perfect pass that the Lightning captain one-timed it past Miller. It was Lecavalier’s 21st goal on the season.
The comeback was halted there as Thomas Vanek scored into an empty net a minute after the Lecavalier goal. Pominville capped off his hat trick with 30 seconds left in the game, and the Lightning stumbled to a 6-2 loss.
Coach Rick Tocchet told the Tampa Bay Times that the loss “disheartens” him, and that the Lightning “seem like a team that gets rattled.” Not exactly confidence-inspiring talk for a team that was six points out of a playoff spot with twelve games to go.
A 3-1 loss to Washington capped off an 0-for-4 homestand, and the Lightning’s playoff dreams were put on hold for another season. Coinciding with the losing streak was a goal drought from Stamkos.
He had scored consistently throughout the season on his way to his first 50-goal, 90-point season. But during the slide out of the playoff hunt his only points came in the game against Buffalo. e rebounded nicely to score 12 points in his last 10 games to finish fifth in the NHL scoring race. It was too late for the Lightning, however, as they finished out of the playoffs for the second time in Stamkos’ short career.
*The game Stamkos refers to in the interview is a 7-3 shellacking the Flyers put on the Lightning. Stamkos did score in that game as well.