Game Six of Rangers-Lightning seemed like the perfect case study for the two main differences between the two teams. First, there is the fatigue difference between a team playing four games in the final round and a team playing seven. And secondly, there is a difference between a team that has Steven Stamcos and a team that has no one who can touch the Lightning captain’s longevity, experience and goal-scoring skills.
The game that took Tampa to the Stanley Cup final for the third year in a row felt a lot like a football match, especially in the first half, as neither team scored a goal. Locking up The Lightning Rangers and limiting their shots, on the other hand, New York goalkeeper Igor Shestarkin saves after his side to keep his team’s hopes alive. And unlike a thrilling, high-stakes football match, it was just a break from a legendary striker to completely change everyone’s mood. In the middle of the second period, Stamcos snatches the puck as it leaves its own zone. Passing to the top of the circle at the other end, he fired a shot and, surprisingly, the puck avoided Shesterkin as it passed him and hit inside the far net. This was another timely goal for a man who has given 522 lightnings across 1,033 games in his career.
Although from there it was not at all smooth. It was Stamcos, in fact, indirectly responsible for the goal that brought the Rangers back into it. The game was 1-0 through most of the third half, but a slight callback in a rare Stamcos fight that electrified the Bolts at the end of Game 5 put the captain in trouble at a crucial time. A bit of contact with young ranger Alexis Lafrenier sends Stamcos into the box with eight minutes left in the period.
And while he was there, Frank tied the knot with a rocket game.
Since the start of Game Three, the Rangers have managed to score only once in 5-on-5 action. They were decisively, consistently overwhelmed by the strength of the lightning when the numbers were equal and failed to find the cracks that would test Andrei Vasilevsky on goal. The small flaws at Stamcos gave them the advantage that they would have needed if they were to continue to play this season.
Many players will react negatively to such self-inflicted hazards. They will struggle to regain their composure and return to the ice unable to let the mistake fly because they are too aggressive, or too anxious or otherwise playing against themselves. But Stamcos is different. While many of the Rangers’ charisma comes from their youth, with an average age of 26.7 and a bunch of key contributors who have never won a game in the playoffs before, Stamcos has made a strong case for the value of the NHL experience. Than anyone else on the team. In his 14th year, and in his 111th play-off game, Stamcos needed just 21 seconds to undo the effects of that scoring goal.
After finding a beautiful breakout pass from Andrej Platt to Nikita Kucherov, Stamcos leaves Jacob Truba in the dust in the net, goes to a determined sprint, and opens tons of ice where he can eat his teammates. It wasn’t the most beautiful finish you’ve ever seen, like a pin pinball between a Shesterkin and then a Stammer’s leg. But what matters is that it was the winner of the game, unlocked by Stamcos’ ability to jump abruptly in action.
Stamcos later said, “I was definitely a little disappointed to take the penalty. “It simply came to our notice then. I was confident in our group that we would find a way, be it as a rule or in extra time. We deserved to win the match. That was our feeling from the Pak drop. “
At 32, it has already been Stamcos’ best post-season, as Saturday’s second goal – his ninth – set a new career high for scoring. In Lightning’s 2020 run cup, he was injured and the strongest as a symbol, scoring only one goal to inspire the team but otherwise leading from the outside. In 2021, he played well but was not particularly visible in the late round, surpassing his game by the spectacular hot streak enjoyed by Braden Point. But during this run, the point is now missing due to injury, Lightning needs their captain more than ever, and he was there whenever they called.
The ads that the NHL runs during the playoffs, set on a cover of “The Times They Are A-Changin”, show the lineage of the various Cup-winning captains who look as if they are passing the trophy. After celebrating with each other. The final figure, of course, is Stamcos, with a line that, intentionally or not, heavily implies that he will lose it to a successor this season.
I don’t know if he took it personally, but this post season, Stamcos is playing like a guy who never wants to leave Lord Stanley. And now that he has led the Lightning to four consecutive wins and ten of their last twelve, the three-pit impossible dream is in their realization. They will fight the snowfall that started on Wednesday.