The real Steven Stamkos has stood up for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was an exciting Opening Night on Wednesday as the 2020-21 NHL Season finally got underway, and one of the highlights was seeing Steven Stamkos back to his best for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On a night where Sidney Crosby did Sidney Crosby things, the Toronto Maple Leafs edged out the Montreal Canadiens in OT, the St. Louis Blues outclassed the Colorado Avalanche and young talent was on full display as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers, Stamkos and the reigning Stanley Cup Champions arguably stole the show.
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After unveiling their 2019-20 Stanley Cup Banner, the Lightning got straight down to business and proved that they are ready to go back-to-back by dismantling a Chicago Blackhawks team now in uncharted territory after pulling the trigger on a rebuild during the offseason.
And Stamkos was without doubt the star of the show, dominating all night long and proving that he has finally put his injury hell behind him. We all know the story by now; Tampa Bay’s leader and franchise cornerstone played less than three minutes in the entire 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs after re-injuring his core in the wake of scoring that crucial goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars.
As a result, the 30-year-old had to undergo a second surgery to fully repair his abdominal injury and missed the rest of the postseason, although he was present to finally lift the Stanley Cup above his head after years of giving everything to try and win the greatest prize in all of sports.
And, after the second surgery was a resounding success and having made a full recovery, Stamkos looked back to his very best throughout Training Camp, fully healthy and looking like the best possible version of himself.
It was great news for the Tampa Bay Lightning who need their Captain more than ever with superstar forward Nikita Kucherov out for the entire 2020-21 regular-season after undergoing hip surgery. And, from what we saw on Wednesday, the signs are incredibly positive.
While a very small sample size, Stamkos backed up his impressive Training Camp by being the best player on the ice on Opening Night, doing all the things that we have come to expect from vintage Steven Stamkos. He looked back to the peak of his powers and there were no signs of the plethora of injuries that have hampered him in years past.
Taking full advantage of a Blackhawks team with no Corey Crawford, no Brandon Saad and no Jonathan Toews, with career backup Malcolm Subban the starter, Stamkos absolutely had a party, seemingly letting out all his frustrations built up over the last couple of years in one single night.
He put up a goal and two assists for a three-point night, claiming an assist on Ondrej Palat‘s power play goal, before treating us to his trademark one-timer from the left circle on the power play, arguably one of the best sights in all of hockey.
And, to cap off what was a stellar night, Stamkos then assisted on Brayden Point‘s third-period goal to make it 14 points in season openers (3 G, 11 A), tying Vincent Lecavalier (7 G, 7 A) for the most in franchise history.
It was thrilling to watch Stamkos in full flow and seemingly back to his best, especially as I’m a huge Steven Stamkos fan and I actually think the center is underrated for just how naturally gifted he is and what he can do with the puck on his stick.
Stamkos being at the height of his powers and playing like he did last night is also crucial for the Lightning who will have to make do without Kucherov, but having their Captain single-handily dismantle opponents will help to soften that blow somewhat.
So, on an Opening Night where there were plenty of storylines to digest, perhaps the most impressive was Steven Stamkos coming up big when the Tampa Bay Lightning needed him the most and proving that, perhaps, he is fully healthy and back once and for all.