Steven Stamkos’ Hot Streak Helping Lightning Look Like Legitimate Threat

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BOSTON — Steven Stamkos scoring a goal at TD Garden is a pretty safe bet.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s No. 1 center and captain scored on a penalty shot and added an assist in his team’s 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday night, increasing his goals scored total to 11 in 16 career games at the Garden.

Stamkos also extended his goal streak to six games, his longest of the season and one away from his career high. The Lightning are 18-6-0 since New Year’s Day, and one of the reasons for their improved performance has been Stamkos’ return to elite form. He has 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 26 games since Jan. 1.

“He’s our captain and he’s used to scoring and he’s had a couple stretches where he’s gone without a goal, and obviously guys that are used to putting the puck in the net can get frustrated when they don’t score, but it works the other way as well,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

“When they are scoring, you watch out, because everything they touch seems to be going in the net. You know, (Stamkos) has been a consistent scorer in this league throughout his career, and you are going to look at the end of the year and he’s going to be in that, you know 40 to 50 range. It doesn’t really matter how he gets there, he’s eventually going to get there, that’s what scorers do.

“But he’s helping us win in so many other areas. He’s been really great on the penalty kill, when your leader is playing that way, and playing the right way, it’s hard for guys not to follow. It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Stamkos’ improved play comes at an interesting time. We all know he’s able to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, and despite no reports of an imminent contract extension before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET NHL trade deadline, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said two weeks ago he won’t trade his captain.

Where does that leave Tampa Bay at the deadline? The team’s rise up the standings — it’s only two points behind the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers entering Monday — makes it very difficult to trade Stamkos.

The Lightning are playing like legit Stanley Cup contenders and certainly could come out of an Eastern Conference that boasts only one elite team, the Washington Capitals.

The only option for Yzerman is to be an aggressive buyer at the trade deadline. It would be foolish to not maximize Stamkos’ time with the club — whether it’s the next two months or eight years — and be aggressive in pursuit of a Stanley Cup.

He has plenty of good assets, too, including all of his first-round draft picks, a pair of 2016 second-round selections (his own and Boston’s) and the No. 3 pick from the 2013 draft in 20-year-old winger Jonathan Drouin.

If he can use these assets to acquire bottom-six scoring or a top-four defenseman, he will put his team in a good position to contend for a Cup. Maybe that convinces Stamkos to eventually re-sign, maybe it doesn’t, but at least it would re-affirm the franchise’s commitment to winning.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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