Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos never did catch fire the way he or his team hoped he would during the playoffs. Now we know one of the reasons why. Though he denied it was a hindrance to him, Stamkos admitted Monday that he spent the playoffs playing through a nagging left shoulder injury.
"I was a little banged up in the Pittsburgh series, but you know, it wasn't anything that I think really affected my play,'' Stamkos said. "When the game started, you're running on adrenalin and stuff and I felt pretty good for the most part. I feel like I got better and better as the playoffs went on.''
Stamkos did finish the playoffs strong. He scored two goals and set up five others during the last six games of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston. But he never became the scoring threat that he had been during the first five months of the regular season.
Stamkos, who scored 51 goals to share the league lead in 2009-10, led the league with 41 goals through February. He scored just four goals in his last 22 games, however, and when the drought carried over into the playoffs, it sparked speculation that Stamkos was nursing an injury.
"Everyone fights through those little bumps and bruises,'' Stamkos said. "You never want to use that as an excuse. I just banged up my shoulder a little bit. But like I said, we got on it pretty good early on, and I don't think it affected my play.''
See you next year
The end of the Lightning's season came too soon for everyone involved with the team, but especially for D Pavel Kubina, who might have been on the verge of returning to action after missing 10 games with a concussion.
Kubina said Monday that he has made steady progress the past five or six days and that he was optimistic that he could have returned some time during the Stanley Cup finals.
"I had light workouts on Friday and Saturday (of last week) and so there was a chance I would be ready for the finals,'' he said. "We didn't know when but maybe for Game 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 there was a chance I would be ready.''
Kubina went down one game into the conference semifinals against Washington. He said he spent the first three weeks off the ice wondering and even worrying if he'd ever get back on it.
"It was a very tough three weeks,'' he said. "I couldn't do anything. But the last week, it's been a huge difference and our medical staff and our doctors have helped me a lot.''
Kubina said he'll stay in the Bay area for the next couple weeks to continue getting treatment. He said the progress he's made the past week has left him confident that he'll be ready for the start of training camp in September.
What have we learned?
The NFL prides itself on its parity, but it doesn't have much, if anything, on the NHL. That, at least, is the opinion of Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who said the greatest lesson he learned during his rookie coaching season was just how close each team in the NHL is to each other.
"The teams are all basically almost equal,'' he said. "Even the bottom-end teams, they'll beat you any night that you're even just a little off, whether it's because of injuries or fatigue or just coming back from a road trip. The players are just all so good.
"You find out that (the difference between winning and losing comes down to) fine tuning. It's like Formula 1 (racing). You (always) hear those guys (say) 'My tuning wasn't good here or there.' So the difference is like it is with 100-meter (runners). It's 100ths of a second. That was my learning curve.''
The final word
A playoff afterthought at the start of the year, the Lightning finished the 2010-11 season just one game shy of a berth in the Stanley Cup finals. When he was asked to characterize that achievement Monday, Boucher leaned on the words of a well-wisher he met over the weekend.
"Somebody told me, 'Don't be disappointed, because your team is back on track and we're on the map now,' " and I kind of liked the fact that he said, 'We're on the map now.' I think that's exactly what it is. We've re-established a culture here, and now we just have to build on it,'' Boucher said.