Steven Stamkos briefly returned to the lineup — and scored a goal! — while the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line continued to dominate in a 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 3 on Wednesday night.
The Lightning now lead the series by a 2-1 margin.
The two teams meet in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final on Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (livestream).
Now, three takeaways from the Lightning win.
1. Steven Stamkos didn’t play long, but he made an impact
The Lightning have been waiting to see Stamkos in an NHL game for nearly seven months. When he finally got back into the lineup, he played less than three minutes before exiting the game.
He did, however, manage to make a significant impact in those three minutes by delivering a bit hit on his first shift and then scoring a goal (on a beautiful play!) on his first shot.
He barely played after that, and in a way made some history.
Now we go back to wondering when, or if, we will see him again in this series.
His injury situation is not the only one to keep an eye on from this game.
Dallas also had a couple of issues as top-line winger Alexander Radulov exited the game late after being involved in a big collision behind the net, while Denis Gurianov was also hit in the face by a puck while sitting on the bench.
2. Victor Hedman looks unstoppable right now
Yeah, Stamkos briefly played and scored. Sure, the top line of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat all scored goals and finished with two points each. But the player that really powers this machine remains Hedman from the blue line, and wow was he great — again! — on Wednesday.
He made a sensational defensive play early in the first period to disrupt a Denis Gurianov breakaway, played 22 minutes, scored his 10th goal of the playoffs, finished with a game-high three points, and once again helped dictate the pace of the game when he was on the ice. During 5-on-5 play the Lightning outshot the Stars 11-5 with Hedman on the ice, while they also scored a pair of goals.
All postseason Kucherov and Point have been the Lightning’s Conn Smythe favorites, but Hedman is starting to play his way into that discussion if they can win this series.
Khudobin was the key factor in the Stars’ getting through the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final.
The were going to need another performance like that against Tampa Bay.
After getting one of those performances in Game 1, he has not quite matched that over the past two games.
Khudobin was benched after giving up five goals on 29 shots in just two periods of play on Wednesday, dropping his save percentage in the series to .906.
Even with that it would be unfair to put all of this on him. The Lightning scored a couple of fluky goals in Games 1 and 2 that went in off of weird bounces, while the Stars have also struggled to stay out of the penalty box at times.
Tampa Bay’s first goal on Wednesday came on a Nikita Kucherov breakaway after Miro Heiskanen was guilty of an ugly turnover in the neutral zone that put the puck right onto Kucherov’s stick. Just a few minutes later Stamkos scored his goal when the Stars had another defensive breakdown that left him alone, and then an ugly line change contributed to Point’s goal.
So there were some issues outside of the goalie.
It is not that he has played poorly, it is just that he has not played as well as he did in the previous series. Given the talent the Lightning have on their roster, and the way they have been playing all postseason, they might need him to find that level again.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Lightning lead series 2-1)
Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Game 3: Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.