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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Lightning's Stamkos keeps eye on puck

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos walked into the locker room Tuesday morning with a black baseball bat resting on his right shoulder.

Amid chuckles and laughs, Stamkos took a few practice swings before taking questions about his background in baseball.

Stamkos put those skills to use Monday night to help Tampa Bay pick up a point in a shootout loss to Ottawa. The Lightning have points in nine consecutive games, the third-longest stretch in franchise history and the longest since 2003-04.

With Tampa Bay on a power play and trailing by a goal in the third period, Ondrej Palat put a shot off the crossbar. The puck popped high into the air, with Stamkos able to track its trajectory as it started to fall.

Standing to the right of goaltender Robin Lehner, the Lightning captain squared up and waited patiently for the puck drop to the crossbar level — making it a legal attempt at the puck. He choked up on his stick and swung, swatting the puck in the net for the goal that sent the game to overtime.

“I guess your instincts kind of kick in, but I was just waiting as long as I could for the puck to get as low as possible, and obviously it worked out,’’ Stamkos said. “I played a little baseball back in the day, so the hand-eye coordination (is there).

“Sometimes you get a little lucky and are able to get a good piece of it, sometimes you don’t. But I got it right off the blade, choked up a little bit, and in those situations you have two plays — glove it down and throw it down quick or swing away. I was lucky enough to hit it.’’

The play was more skill than luck. While Stamkos is a hockey player with world-class talent, he also is a natural athlete who played baseball until age 14.

“Anything that he does he’s good at, whether it’s golf or baseball, I’m pretty sure he’s good at basketball, too,” defenseman Matt Carle said. “And he’s probably good at underwater basket weaving, as well. ... He is just a talent.’’

So, what was most impressive about the highlight-reel goal that was ranked second on ESPN “SportsCenter’s” top 10 plays of the day — the patience to wait for the right moment as the puck dropped toward the ice, the presence of mind to choke up on the stick to give himself a better chance to make contact or actually swatting the puck from the side of the net and scoring the goal?

“I think that could be a D, all of the above,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s why he has 200-plus goals and will probably score hundreds and hundreds more... that’s an elite play, not a good play, an elite play.’’

Stamkos played plenty of baseball growing up, primarily as a shortstop while dabbling on the mound. But around the time coaches start pushing for year-round training, Stamkos chose hockey.

He still plays some baseball with friends in a summer league back home, outside Toronto. He plays mainly center field, but perhaps still swinging a heavy bat paid dividends on the ice.

“To be completely honest, it was just an instinctual play,’’ Stamkos said. “I didn’t think too much.’’

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