For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it is time for a leader.
The season is down to a best-of-three situation. The lights are bright. The air is thin.
For the Lightning, it is time that the best players took over.
It is that simple, really. If the Bolts are going to win the Stanley Cup, it will be up to one of their leading actors. This is not a job for a big player, not a job for a co-star.
This is a star player’s close-up.
It is time for a star player.
Yet, if there is a concern to be had for the Lightning, it is that lately, the stars haven’t played like it. Steven Stamkos has not scored a goal in his last six games. Tyler Johnson has one goal in his last eight. Nikita Kucherov has one in his last six.
“Obviously, it’s going to fall on the guys that you expect,” Stamkos said Thursday. “It should. I expect more from myself. Hopefully, the chances keep coming. You know that, eventually, they’re going to go.
“No one said this was going to be easy. It’s not easy to win the Stanley Cup. You put so much sacrifice, so much time, so much effort. We’ve just got to stick with it. Its not all negative. It’s right there. You build some confidence. You’re getting your puck on the stick in the right situation, eventually it’s going to go in.”
In the closing minutes of Wednesday night, the puck kept finding Stamkos’ stick. But he could not find the net. It is mindful of how the playoffs began for him against Detroit, when he was wayward. In the middle, Stamkos scored six out of seven.
Lately, however, it has been a dry well.
“As long as you’re getting the chances,” he said. “You start worrying when you don’t get the chances.
“For me, obviously the offense is the thing that people expect and I expect. Hopefully, you just stick with it and it comes. Like I said, I’ve been through it before.”
Even the power play has not worked out for Tampa Bay.
“Well, they have a good penalty kill,” Stamkos said. “They pack it in pretty tight. Guys are willing to block shots. We have to find a way to get more shots on the net. I know we haven’t scored on the power play at the clip we wanted to. Sometimes, when you’re pressing, you’re not confident in taking the shot. You make that extra pass, try to get a nice goal. I think were guilty of trying to make a pretty pass.
“At this time of the season, we’ll take any goal that we can get. Maybe tomorrow, we can look at the video and correct some things.”
Assistant coach Rick Bowness says Stamkos is trying to be a complete hockey player.
“I’ve always said this about Steve,” Bowness said “This kid wants to win. His heart is in the right place. He’s becoming a real solid two-way player. He works very hard without the puck. Everyone talks about Marian Hossa. I loved watching him his whole career. Hossa back-checks hard, works hard without the puck. Stammer is becoming that. You see him finishing his checks. You see all the intensity.
“All elite players, they expect more, they expect to score. They all expect to score. The goal scorers are not going to dominate the games. They’ve all got different expectations of themselves than most people. That’s what makes them very special. But I’ve always admired Stammer’s passion for the game and his desire to be a great player on both ends of the ice.”
For the Lightning to find a way against the Chicago Blackhawks, someone has to step up. Johnson, maybe, Kucherov. Or, of course, Stamkos.
Since he arrived, this team has looked longily to him.
Now, it must do so again.