TAMPA, Fla. - Former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who knows a bit about leading by physical example, was asked about Steven Stamkos' Game 3-leading seven hits.
"You see that and it makes everybody on the bench go, 'Why not me? Why shouldn't I work as hard as him?' " Callahan said after the Lightning practiced Thursday. "He's setting that example and everybody's following."
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Stamkos did a little more than throw his body around in Game 3, though his big hit on the Rangers' Kevin Hayes early in the first period was almost as eye-opening as Stamkos' first-period goal that helped Tampa Bay narrow its deficit to 2-1 in what became a 6-5 overtime victory.
The Lightning captain had been needing to do those non-scoring little things when Tampa Bay's playoff run began. The story through the seven-game first-round win over the Red Wings and Game 1 of the second round against the Canadiens was Stamkos' scoring drought. He had no goals and three assists through the first eight playoff games.
But that narrative is gone now. Coach Jon Cooper shifted Stamkos from center to right wing, with Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula in the other two spots on the presumptive No. 1 line. Stamkos has five goals and six assists in his last eight playoff games with a bit less full-ice responsibility than he would have as a center.
"As we've gotten deeper in the playoffs, I think I've gotten better," Stamkos said. "You do have a bit more responsibility as the center. But it's sticking to that structure we have, as a center or a wing, that's going to continue to bring us chances."
His line didn't produce as much as the "Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, which accounted for four goals in Game 3, including Kucherov's overtime winner. But Killorn had a goal on nine shots against Henrik Lundqvist and Stamkos' line had perhaps better scoring chances than Johnson's line, making for another miserable defensive game for the Rangers.
"It's tough for a guy like him. He's always under the microscope and he handles it well," Killorn said of Stamkos. "His goal changed the momentum of the game for sure."
So did some of his physical play, providing an unexpected bonus from one of the better scorers in the NHL.
"It's just showing his commitment level of playing the entire -- kind of throwing his entire package out," Cooper said. "He wears the 'C,' and when you're doing that, everybody seems to follow, and it's good to watch."