Ask a Tampa Bay Lightning fan to recall the biggest playoff goals of recent years. Maybe what comes to mind is Tyler Johnson scoring with a second left against Montreal in Game 3 of the 2015 second round series, or Alex Killorn scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the 2015 conference finals at Madison Square Garden.
Or perhaps it’s one of Nikita Kucherov’s OT game-winners, either the one against Carey Price in Montreal or the one at Amalie against Henrik Lundqvist. Heck, maybe Braydon Coburn’s Game 7 winner against Detroit is the first one you think of.
But conspicuous by his absence in the memory of big Lightning playoff goals is Steven Stamkos, the captain, face of the franchise, and elite regular-season goal scorer. The man who once scored 60 goals in a season and consistently flirted with 40 or more in other years has been a relative playoff non-entity throughout his Lightning career, with only 15 goals in 51 career playoff games, or 0.29 per game.
This is half of the 0.52 goals per game he’s scored over his career in the regular season. You’re probably thinking, well sure it’s harder to score in the playoffs than the regular season, and in general that’s true, but not for other Lightning stars.
By comparison, Kucherov scores goals at 0.49 per game in the regular season, but has 24 goals in 47 career playoff games to date for a rate of 0.51 per game so he’s had no playoff drop-off at all. Tyler Johnson? 0.28 per game in the regular season, 0.47 in the playoffs. Even Alex Killorn, who’s never scored 20 goals in a regular season and averages 0.20 goals per game there, has 18 goals in 49 career playoff games, 0.37 per game and 3 more total goals than Stamkos in 2 fewer games.
So while the likes of Kucherov, Killorn and Johnson are scoring anywhere from their regular season average to nearly double the regular season rate, Stamkos has seen his goal-scoring output cut in half.
And of those 15 career playoff goals, were any of them even big goals? Racking my brain, his breakaway goal against Montreal in Game 2 in 2015 is the only one that pops to mind and that was only because it was the "monkey off his back" goal, the first of that preseason after he failed to score in any of the 7 games of the opening round against Detroit and Game 1 of that series.
And it wasn’t a game-winner, but rather just one of six the Bolts scored in romping to a 6-2 victory. In fact, of Stamkos’ 15 career playoff goals, only two are considered game-winners. The first was a second-period power-play goal against Washington in Game 1 of the 2011 second round which gave the Bolts a 3-2 lead that they preserved in the third.
The other was another second-period goal that gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead in Game 6 against Montreal in 2015, and it turned out to be credited as the game-winner because Max Pacioretty scored in garbage time to deny Ben Bishop a shutout in a 4-1 win. Neither of these game-winners were particularly memorable.
Stamkos has had only 2 multiple-goal games in the playoffs, neither of which did a lot for the team. The first 2-goal game did come in a win, but it was while the Lightning were otherwise blowing out the Penguins 8-2 in Game 5 in 2011. The other 2-goal game came in Game 1 of the 2014 opening round against Montreal, a game the Lightning lost 5-4 in OT on their way to being swept.
He’s also had long droughts of not scoring in the playoffs. In addition to the aforementioned goal in Montreal which broke an 11-game drought over two seasons, Stamkos just broke another 11-game drought after failing to score in the first two games against the Devils – before Monday night, his last Lightning playoff goal came May 24, 2015 in that Rangers game mentioned earlier that Kucherov won in overtime.
None of this is to belittle his contributions over the last 10 years to the franchise and the community. Despite his lack of postseason goals, he’s still been an instrumental contributor on a team that’s made deep playoff runs in 2011 and 2015 and went to Game 7 of the conference finals without him (until the last game) in 2016.
But for a player of his caliber, he’s been awfully lucky that the likes of Kucherov, Johnson and Killorn have stepped it up considerably to take the heat off of him. Right now it’s kind of the best-kept secret in the Tampa Bay and national media. But had the Lightning seen its recent playoff runs end prematurely, the spotlight would be shining on him and his lack of post-season production.
And let’s not get started on J.T. Miller and his 1 career goal in 42 playoff games (ironically against the Lightning) and counting….