Steven Stamkos returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup on Wednesday and made an immediate impact, scoring a beautiful goal off the rush early in the first period. The Lightning captain didn’t look out of place during his almost three-minute of ice time playing on the fourth line, however, he did not take the ice during the final seven minutes of the first period. Despite returning to the bench to support his teammates, Stamkos did no play another shift in the game. The fact that Stamkos could not finish a period, let a lone an entire game, would lead me to believe that we won’t see him play again in the Stanley Cup Final.
With a 5-2 win and 2-1 lead, the Lightning should win the series (and the Cup) about 84 percent of the time, which translates to a fair line of about -525. Game 4 will take place in Edmonton on Friday and we shouldn’t expect the Lightning to be priced much differently than they were heading into Game 3 (-160) with or without Stamkos. After all, outside of the series opener, the Bolts have clearly been the better team. The top line of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat were particularly good, generating almost 90 percent of the expected goals when they were on the ice. Each member of the trio scored a goal and tallied an assist while combining for nine shots on goal and the Stars simply did not have an answer for them.
With that being said, it did seem like the Lightning received an emotional boost after losing their captain to injury so soon after he returned, and that might be tough to carry over to the next game. Especially since the Stars will be looking to rebound after what was maybe their most lackluster performance of the entire playoffs. While there were instances where the Stars showed signs of life and didn’t get any help from the hockey gods, their overall performance can only be described as flat. They also didn’t get a show stealing performance from their goaltender.
It’s tough to criticize Anton Khudobin, who is (without a doubt) the MVP of this Stars team and the reason that they’ve made it this far. In any event, Khudobin’s performance wasn’t up to snuff. The veteran goaltender has started games at a higher rate than he has at any point in his entire career and fatigue looked to be an issue in Game 3. Khudobin sat out the third period, and although there has been talk about Ben Bishop and whether or not we might see him start a game, I am going to assume Khudobin will get the nod in Game 4. Check back on Friday for some player props and updated market analysis.