The Tampa Bay Lightning enter the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars with several key players dealing with injuries the team somehow was able to withstand during an impressive run to the Eastern Conference championship.
Stamkos, a two-time Richard Trophy winner who’s been chasing a NHL title for 12 seasons, has yet to play this postseason because of a lower-body injury.
He finally got on the ice for Game 6 of the East final, but only to celebrate the Lightning advancing to hockey’s biggest stage for the first time since 2015.
”You need a lot of good players to get to this point. And resiliency,” general manager Julien BriseBois said Friday.
”Once you have a good enough team to get into the playoffs, it’s who’s going to find a way,” BriseBois added. ”At this point you have two teams that have found a way to get to the Final, and one of us is going to find a way to lift the big trophy.”
Stamkos has been skating with teammates, however there’s no definitive timetable for his return.
Game 1 is Saturday night.
”He’s still rehabbing. We haven’t ruled him out,” BriseBois said. ”I don’t expect him in the lineup (Saturday).”
Point was injured during Game 2 of East final against the New York Islanders. He missed Games 3 and 5, while playing at less than 100 percent in Games 4 and 6.
Cirelli, meanwhile, scored the series-clinching goal in overtime Thursday night after earlier appearing to injure his right knee in a second-period collision with Islanders captain Anders Lee.
Cirelli returned in the third period and delivered the winner, as coach Jon Cooper described it, while playing ”basically on one leg.”
”Obviously, I was in a little bit of pain there,” Cirelli said, ”but I was fine and was fortunate enough to finish the game.”
Point shrugged off a question about how he’s feeling.
”I think everyone on both sides has something they’re dealing with,” Point said. ”You don’t get here without getting dinged up a little bit. It’s just about competing.”
BISHOP STILL OUT
Injured Stars goaltender Ben Bishop probably isn’t getting the net back even if he’s healthy given the way Anton Khudobin is playing, and the team still doesn’t have an update on him. Bishop skated Thursday, coach Rick Bowness said, and is still rehabbing.
”Ben’s been a big part of our success since he’s come here and unfortunately he’s injured,” general manager Jim Nill said. ”We’re going to take that day by day. But he’s a big part, he’s been in the dressing room with the guys, he’s cheering them on, he’s working hard in practice and that’s where we’re at right now.”
Beyond Bowness facing a team he was an assistant for under Jon Cooper for five years, there are plenty of connections between Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Bishop was the starter for the Lightning in 2015 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final and lost to Chicago and was replaced in net by Andrei Vasilevskiy when he got injured. Tampa Bay’s Barclay Goodrow and Dallas’ Joe Pavelski also played together in San Jose and went to the 2016 final. When Pavelski was a free agent in the summer of 2019, the Lightning and Stars were among his final choices, and now he’s facing the team he didn’t pick in another chance to win it all.
”It was one of those moments where if I was going to be leaving San Jose, I wanted to go to a place I was going to have a good chance to win,” Pavelski said. ”One of the things I liked, for me, was just I like the goalies here, I like the structure defensively. … There’s also some high-end talent on this team, as well.”
NICE TO BE BACK
Pavelski and Corey Perry both spent well more than a decade with their original NHL teams, facing each other constantly as division rivals.
Perry’s NHL debut came with the Anaheim Ducks in 2005-06, a year before they won the Stanley Cup. That championship season for Perry came the same year Pavelski was a rookie with the San Jose Sharks.
Both remained with those West Coast teams until last summer, when both signed with the Dallas Stars in free agency. They sat at a podium together Friday, the day before getting to play in another Stanley Cup Final.
”It’s been awesome,” Pavelski said. ”We competed against each other for a long time.”
The Sharks lost in the Stanley Cup Final four years ago, Pavelski’s first season as their captain. This is also Perry’s first time back to a final.
”There’s lots of battles that we’ve gone through,” Perry said. ”There’s been a lot of hockey played between us, and it’s nice to be sitting here beside him right now doing this.”
One other team Pavelski considered last summer was Tampa Bay – the team the Stars are facing now.
”For me, it was one of those moments where if I was going to be leaving San Jose, I wanted to go to a place that was going to have a good chance to win,” he said. ”I identified a few places. There were a few places that had interest, and then we went from there.”