EditorsNote: Update: Writethru adds quotes and details
All of the Tampa Bay Lightning's stars had an impact, even Steven Stamkos in his brief return to the lineup for the first time in more than seven months, and the result was a resounding 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars Wednesday in Edmonton that has them ahead 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final.
Maybe it was the inspiration of the return of Stamkos, the team captain who scored with his lone shot on goal on a night he played less than three minutes, but the Lightning dominated in a victory that has them looking to take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series when it resumes Friday.
Although he didn't take a shift after the first intermission, Stamkos said playing in the game was a "dream come true". He had core muscle surgery in March and was originally expected to play when the season restarted, but was on the sidelines until Wednesday.
"It was an amazing experience to share with my teammates," Stamkos said. "There's been a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes, so to get into a game and have an impact on a game when a month ago that might not have been possible. ... I was just happy to contribute."
Stamkos wouldn't divulge whether he had a setback or suffered another injury, nor if he expects to play any other games.
"Obviously, there is an issue that I've been working through. We'll see what happens from here, but I was just extremely happy to be out there with these guys and have a chance to just be on the bench and contribute to a win," he said.
"We're focused on winning right now. Tonight was a step in the right direction. It's so painful to just sit and watch and feel you have no part of the game because you're way more nervous watching the games."
There was no pain on this night for Stamkos and the rest of the Lightning. Victor Hedman led the way with one goal and three points, while Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat each netted one goal and one assist, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves.
After Kucherov opened the scoring at the 5:33 mark and Stamkos doubled the lead 85 seconds later, Jason Dickinson put Dallas on the board with a short-handed goal midway through the opening frame, but the Lightning blew the game open with a three-goal second period.
Hedman tallied 54 seconds into the middle frame -- his 10th goal of the playoffs, which is the third-most goals by a defenseman in a single playoff year, behind 12 netted by Paul Coffey in 1985 and the 11 Brian Leetch scored in 1994, and Point buried a one-timer set up by Kucherov at 12:02. Palat buried a loose puck with 65 seconds remaining in the period to make it a 5-1 count.
Miro Heiskanen scored for Dallas 6:49 into the third period while the clubs basically played out the clock.
Now, it's up to the Stars to regroup, and they know it.
"We made some errors. That's hockey. That's sports," said defenseman John Klingberg. "It's 2-1, they're up one. We're going to even the series on Friday."
It would help if the Dallas leaders had an impact similar to Tampa Bay's standouts, especially the top line. Jamie Benn has yet to register a point in this series, while Alexander Radulov has gone five games without a goal and Tyler Seguin has managed just one assist in 12 outings.
"We're giving them the ice time," coach Rick Bowness said. "They have to figure it out. It's as simple as that."
After the second period, the Stars gave goalie Anton Khudobin -- the victim of five goals on 29 shots -- a mercy hook in favor of Jake Oettinger for the final frame, in which he faced just three shots.
Radulov left the game midway through the third period after he tried to throw a check but missed and crashed into the boards. There was no update on his status.
--Field Level Media