With the Stanley Cup Finals officially underway, the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning are presenting hockey fans with an equal match, one that has most people questioning who is going to come out on top. The Lightning are currently outplaying the Stars two games to one, but there is still hockey to be played – and if we know anything about the Dallas Stars from the last round of the playoffs, they’re capable of getting gritty and making an unexpected comeback.
The two competing teams are so evenly matched that both are having performance issues with their captains, issues that could potentially cost them a shiny silver cup with their names engraved on its side.
The Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Steven Stamkos, had not been able to play in a game since Feb. 25 due to a core muscle injury. After undergoing surgery on March 2, the original recovery time was expected to be between six and eight weeks, but Stamkos faced several setbacks that sent him back all the way until Game Three of the Stanley Cup Finals, subsequently leading his team to a win and providing them with a convenient morale boost.
Stamkos scored on his first shot of the game and his team managed to easily overpower the Stars with the leadership of their captain, but according to the EPSN article, “Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos ‘unfit to play,’ ruled out of Game 4,” “ the 30-year-old Stamkos took only five shifts, totaling less than three minutes of playing time, and did not play in the second or third period. He said he was held out because he encountered ‘an issue.’ Stamkos remained on the bench with his teammates for the rest of Game Three and took a few twirls on the ice during TV timeouts.”
After his short time on the ice, Lightning coach Jon Cooper stated that the captain will not be playing in Game Four of the finals but he has not been ruled out for the rest of the series. Clearly, under his guidance, his team worked harder and smarter to take Game Three, but it’s questionable whether or not they’ll be able to continue their winning streak without Stamkos on the ice.
On the other side of things, Dallas Stars’ captain Jamie Benn’s line has been struggling to connect throughout the finals. Benn’s line, consisting of himself, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov have failed to perform throughout the last three games, having a combined three assists and no goals. While Benn’s regular season numbers weren’t impressive either, the struggle of the top players on the team has obviously put extra stress on the Stars’ performance. Similar to Steven Stamkos, players like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin – well known in the National Hockey League – presumably play huge roles in leading the team to victory and boosting clubhouse morale. During a post-game press conference, coach Rick Bowness spoke out about the lack of points on the first line, “Do we need more from our top guys? Every team does. We’re hoping that’s coming, but until it does, if it does, then we’re going to keep battling. We’re going to stay in games and give ourselves a good change to win based on team play and everyone contributing at different times. That’s why we’re here. We made it here by committee, by team play, and we’re going to keep the focus on that.”
The Stars seem to be remaining optimistic in terms of their top players and the rest of their team; it seems like Bowness believes in the rest of the team’s ability to perform without Jamie Benn scoring frequently. But that doesn’t mean that the captain has been flying under the radar completely; he’s been increasingly physical during games and has generated many chances around the net, something that the Stars have been doing well in the Finals. While Benn’s abilities are being wasted, it seems as though the real question revolves around the rest of his team; are they going to be able to step up and defeat Tampa Bay if Stamkos comes back for Game Five or Six?
Both Steven Stamkos and Jamie Benn have faced different kinds of struggles during the Stanley Cup Finals, but it remains anyone’s game. The Stars were able to overpower the Lightning during Game One, but it seems like Tampa Bay has found the opposition’s weak spot, beating them in the last two games. With the next two games happening back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, there’s no telling whether the Stars are going to be able to dig deep and fight back or if the Lightning are ready to finish the offseason in the next two games. One thing is for sure–both teams seem to be trying to do it without the help of their captains in some capacity.