CHICAGO – Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Carle acknowledged that when Steven Stamkos had the puck on his stick in front of the net with 1:14 left in Game 4 and Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford out of position, the players on the Lightning bench started celebrating.
But somehow Brent Seabrook got his stick on the puck and it missed the net. Then with 51 seconds left, Stamkos was stopped cold by Crawford as the Lightning tried desperately to tie the game.
“It is shocking,” Carle said of Stamkos’ trouble scoring goals in the Stanley Cup final. “You bury your head in your hands in disbelief knowing it didn’t go in. He doesn't miss those.”
Just not in Game 4 and not in this series. Going into a Game 5 in Tampa Saturday night that could very well determine which team is going to win this series, it’s time for the stars to come out. Players such as Stamkos on the Tampa side and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the Chicago side can talk all they want about getting “good looks” – exactly when did that become part of the hockey lexicon? – and playing good defense and all that other stuff guys talk about when they’re not producing, but the margin of victory could depend on one of them busting out of what have been head-scratching slumps in the final.
This is a low-scoring final, but not inordinately. Both teams have combined to score 4.5 goals per game, but that’s more than the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils scored in 2012 and slightly more than the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks produced the year before. The goaltending has been very good at times, but certainly not spectacular.
The star players who have been so good at scoring in the past are simply not finding a way to get it done at the moment. That’s undoubtedly a testament to the players against whom they’re lining up, but Stamkos, Kane and Toews will earn a combined $35.6 million next season because they’ve proved in the past they can be better than those who are trying to shut them down.
Kane and Stamkos were drafted in precisely the same spot in the draft one year apart. In Kane’s draft year, he scored 62 goals. In Stamkos’ draft year, he had 58. Stamkos is an elite goalscorer and Kane is among the best playmakers on the planet. Yet between the two of them, they have only two assists in the Stanley Cup final.
And that is unacceptable. What’s more is neither player really looks like himself in the final. We could find out after all this is said and done that both players were playing through some major ailment, but in the absence of that explanation, it’s puzzling.
First with Kane, who has established himself as a downright Datsyukian talent when it comes to carrying the puck. But in the final, Kane has hardly had the puck on his stick. And there have been a number of times where he’s dumped it in rather than carry it with speed over the blueline. There have been glimpses of the Kane we’ve come to know, but not enough of them. The few shots he’s had in the Stanley Cup final have been pretty stoppable.
Stamkos, on the other hand, made a major adjustment early in his career, going from a guy whose lethal one-timer was the biggest part of his arsenal to one who started going to the net hard and scoring goals that were more of the dirty variety. But that seems to be absent from his game of late. After playing just 17:17 in Game 1, which was sixth among all Lightning forwards, Stamkos has been getting his ice time of late. He played 21:54 in Game 3 and 20:40 in Game 4, both the most among forwards on the Lightning.
For his part, Stamkos said he’s not worried about the tangible lack of production in the final. “As long as you’re getting the chances you don’t worry,” Stamkos said. “You start worrying when you don’t get the chances, you start waiting for bounces. I’ve said it all along. It’s not the first time I’ve gone a little stretch without scoring. It’s tough. You want to help your team. That’s the thing you want to do at this time of the year, is help your team. For me, obviously the offense is the thing that people expect and that I expect. Hopefully you just stick with it and it comes. You work through it. It’s got to go in, so I’m hoping for that.”
We know that Kane is a big-game player who has proved time and again he can rise to the occasion. Stamkos’ body of work isn’t big enough yet for us to know what he’s capable of doing in big games. Starting Saturday night would be a good time for both players to make their presences known.