BOSTON — Athletes at every level talk about being in the zone.
It’s this zen-like state where just about everything feels perfectly aligned and the focus is intensely narrow.
Everything just clicks.
“It just feels like it’s coming off the sweet spot of the stick every time,’’ Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos said.
It’s all been coming up sweet for Stamkos of late as he enters this afternoon’s affair with Boston riding a six-game goal -scoring streak.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is his sixth goal-scoring streak of five or more games since the start of the 2009-10 season, twice as many as any other player in the league during that time.
So Stamkos been in this kind of a zone before and knows the feeling.
“When a baseball player hits a home run, they say they don’t even feel the ball come off the bat, so it’s kind of similar to that,’’ he said. “When you are getting the shots off, it’s just coming off the stick and it’s coming hard and it’s coming quick and accurate. So when you’re in a zone like that, it just seems like you’re able to pick those corners and you don’t really feel the puck leave your stick.’’
But this one has a bit of a different feel for Stamkos, who is tied for the league lead with 14 goals and 22 points. The team is winning games, he’s playing better defense than maybe he ever has and he finds himself lined up against the opposition’s top defensive pairing.
Finding the success he has during this stretch — his 14 goals have come in the past 13 games — raises the confidence level.
“The scary thing is I probably should’ve had even more goals in this stretch,’’ Stamkos said. “I’m getting a lot of chances, so that’s encouraging. And it’s good because sometimes you’re going through a stretch where you are getting a lucky bounce here and there, but this one feels a little different because I’m getting multiple chances game in and game out. So it feels good and we just want to ride it as long as possible.’’
Going up against the Bruins, however, has proven to be like hitting a brick wall.
Through 16 games this season, Stamkos has been held without a point three times. Two of those have come against Boston, which is able to use the shutdown pairing of defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as well as perennial Selke Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron for nearly every shift against Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. That’s a tough matchup for any team to face, even the top scorer in the league.
“It’s probably a little challenge here for our quote, unquote top line to see if they can penetrate Boston’s defense,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “So it’s our challenge to score some goals against them. We have one in two games and one of the lines that we lean on to score goals is Stammer’s line and I think it’s going to be a big challenge for them.
“But I think we are in a better spot going into this game against them, so I’m actually really looking forward to see how this game goes.’’
That’s because Stamkos is in another one of those zones and he’s capable of being the difference in the game, even if he only has one chance with the puck on his stick. With the way things are going, odds are the puck is going in the net.
“You sit there and put him in the lineup and you know you have a pretty good chance of at least getting one during the night, and that’s a good way to start the mentality of a game,’’ Cooper said. “I’ll tell you, though, he has earned everything he is getting right now. I think he’s just playing both ends of the rink, he’s on the right side of pucks all the time and eventually it pays off for you.’’
It certainly is right now.
“He scores every game it seems,’’ teammate Valtteri Filppula said. “It’s impressive, definitely, when you have a shot like that and he has a lot of chances in games. He gets himself in the right position and he finishes. It’s fun to watch.’’