Steven Stamkos returns, Lightning beat Stars 5-2 in Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final

Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos returned — very briefly — from a seven-month injury layoff, and scored on his first shot on net as the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 Wednesday in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.

Victor Hedman had a goal a two assists. Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point also scored for Tampa Bay.

The Lightning lead the best-of-seven series 2-1. Game 4 is set for Friday and Game 5 just 24 hours after that on Saturday night.

READ MORE: Tampa Bay Lightning succeeding in NHL playoffs by adding grit, sinew, sandpaper 

Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 21 shots for his 16th win of the playoffs.

Jason Dickinson and Miro Heiskanen replied for Dallas. Anton Khudobin turned away 24-of-29 shots and was replaced by Jake Oettinger for the start of the third period when the score was 5-1. Khudobin is 13-8 in the 2020 post-season.

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Stamkos, a two-time winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s goal-scoring leader, last played Feb. 25. He underwent core muscle surgery in early March.

READ MORE: Hextall on Hockey: Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos remains sidelined during Cup run

The 30-year-old from Markham, Ont., started the game on the fourth line with Cedric Paquette and Pat Maroon and didn’t skate on the power play.

He played less than three minutes in the first period, then stayed in the dressing room until well into the second and didn’t leave the bench for the rest of the game.

Nevertheless, he made the most of his 2:47 in ice time, scoring less than seven minutes into the game to make it 2-0 for Tampa.

He took a cross-ice pass from Hedman and, with a burst of speed, slipped through a tiny space between the boards and Dallas defender Esa Lindell, flew in and fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle top-shelf far side on Khudobin.

Kucherov opened the scoring just over a minute earlier when Heiskanen lost the puck at his own blue-line. Kucherov pounced on it and fired a low missile blocker-side on a breakaway.

Kucherov, with seven goals and 30 points, is the league leader in 2020 post-season scoring.

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The Tampa bench erupted in cheers after the Stamkos goal, but it was Dallas that caught fire. Roope Hintz stole the puck in the Tampa end and dished it to Dickinson for a short-handed one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle.

Tampa took control for good in the second period, outshooting Dallas 21-4 and adding three more goals.

Hedman scored on the power play, firing a shot from the slot through traffic for his 10th goal of the playoffs. Kucherov then fed a streaking Point on a 3-on-1 for Point’s 11th goal of the playoffs. Palat then tucked in the puck on a goalmouth scramble.

In the third period, Dallas made it 5-2 when the puck bounced in on a goalmouth melee. Heiskanen got credit.

READ MORE: NHL Stanley Cup Final between Tampa Bay and Dallas is duel of former coaching associates 

Stamkos is in his 12th season with the Lightning. He produced 29 goals and 66 points in the regular season, which was cut short on March 12 due to the spread of COVID-19.

The final is being played in front of no spectators at Rogers Place, and players are isolating between games to prevent contracting the coronavirus.

Watch below: Some videos from the 2020 NHL playoffs.

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© 2020 The Canadian Press

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