Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final saw the long-awaited return of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. In true storybook fashion, Stamkos scored on his first shot (he skated only 2:47 for the game), and his team overwhelmed the Dallas Stars en route to a 5-2 victory. Tampa Bay now leads the series two games to one.
Miss any of the game? We're here with the top takeaways as we look ahead to Game 4 on Friday.
Stanley Cup Final Game 3 in 10 words or fewer
Stamkos on your fourth line seems like an unfair advantage.
Player of the game: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
The favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP had a goal and two assists for the Lightning, with points on their second, third and fourth goals. His power-play tally ended up being the game-winning goal. Hedman has 10 goals and 10 assists in the playoffs and again was a steadying presence in all facets of the victory.
What worked for Tampa Bay?
This was one of most inspired efforts that we've seen from the Lightning in the playoffs, and that inspiration started with the return of captain Steven Stamkos from injury. The star forward hadn't played since February because of a pair of injuries, including one suffered in training camp before the season restart. From the moment he stepped onto the ice, you could tell that the Lightning had some extra jump. After Stamkos scored the team's second goal, you could tell Tampa Bay was locked in.
Scoring five goals is expected when the Bolts are on their game, but the Lightning's defense doesn't get enough credit when they're rolling like this. To wit: This is the 10th time in 12 playoff games that the Lightning have held their opponent to fewer than three goals.
What didn't work for Dallas?
Mistakes, mistakes and mistakes. The Stars managed to not take three penalties in the first period, but instead, they took three of them in the first 24:31 of Game 3, continuing the undisciplined play they've displayed since the third period of Game 1. The first and third Tampa goals were scored following Dallas turnovers. The fourth was scored on perhaps the most hapless line change of the series.
Give the Lightning credit: When you're coming at your opponent in waves, good things are going to happen. But these are the kinds of errors that the Stars didn't make against the Vegas Golden Knights and the kinds of miscues that oxygenate the Lightning's offensive fire. "We have to stay out of the box if we want to win these games," captain Jamie Benn said.
Tampa Bay 1-0: Nikita Kucherov (unassisted), 5:33, first period
Your heart breaks for Miro Heiskanen, who is having a star-making playoff for Dallas. He was pressured by Lightning forward Ondrej Palat and tried to spin-pass the puck out of danger. Alas, he lost his edge and fell to the ice, and that pass landed directly on the stick of Kucherov. To the surprise of no one, the guy with 74 goals in his past 150 games scored on a breakaway for his seventh of the playoffs.
Here's your moment for the commemorative Blu-Ray. Stamkos played 2:47 in Game 3 but scored a goal on his third shift of the postseason. He snapped a shot past Anton Khudobin, following a great Hedman pass to launch him. It was the 24th playoff goal of his career.
With Joel Kiviranta in the penalty box for interference, Hintz made a good pass that Dickinson snapped home on a one-timer. Andrei Vasilevskiy was either guessing incorrectly or leaning the wrong way, but Dickinson caught him for his second goal of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay 3-1: Victor Hedman (Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat), 10:54, second period, power play
Great forechecking from Palat and Cirelli here. Palat's stick check disrupted Dallas defenseman Andrej Sekera's clearing attempt. Then Cirelli won a battle against a pair of Stars penalty-killers to feed the puck to Hedman, who was alone in the slot for his 10th of the playoffs. He now trails only Paul Coffey (12) and Brian Leetch (11) for most playoff goals by a defenseman in a postseason.
Tampa Bay 4-1: Brayden Point (Anthony Cirelli and Victor Hedman), 12:02, second period
An absolute nightmare change by the Stars led to the Lightning's fourth goal of the night. There were four Dallas players near their bench as Tampa entered the attacking zone, with only Esa Lindell back as a last line of defense. Point cashed in on a 3-on-1 for his NHL-leading 11th goal of the postseason.
Tampa Bay 5-1: Ondrej Palat (Brayden Point and Kevin Shattenkirk), 18:55, second period
It was 5-on-5 but looked like a power play for Tampa, ending with Palat's scoring from a short pass in front from Point for his 10th goal of the postseason. If Khudobin's night weren't already over, Palat's goal stuck a fork in him (as opposed to a sword in him, which is what happens in Vegas).
This was a very weird one, as a bouncing puck from a Heiskanen shot eluded Vasilevskiy. Hedman had a chance to clear the puck out of the crease but whiffed on it.
Ouches of the night
No one on the bench was safe, either:
Denis Gurianov was hit by a puck while on the bench and left with a bloody mouth.
Celebration of the night
Our bench reacting to Stammer's goal.— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) September 24, 2020
It's everything. 💙 pic.twitter.com/7LsTICE2kh
That feeling when your captain hasn't played since Feb. 25 and scores a goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Big Question for Game 4: Does Anton Khudobin have another dominant performance in him?
The Dallas Stars' goalie looked like he was cruising to the Conn Smythe Trophy after his 35-save performance in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. In the six periods since then, however, Khudobin has an .867 save percentage, having given up eight goals. His defense and his teammates' discipline have done him no favors, but at this point in the series, the Stars could use another game-stealing performance in Game 4.
That's all assuming that Khudobin plays in Game 4, considering the back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. "If he decides to play me in Game 4, I will be ready," Khudobin said after the game.