The hard-luck captain was officially ruled out of the series by the Lightning on Sunday morning, but could still be called on to accept the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Hopefully the next time we see him on the ice is during a trophy presentation,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper.
No team has won the Stanley Cup without its captain in the lineup since the 1936-37 Detroit Red Wings, who were without Doug Young. The Boston Bruins did not have a designated captain in 1970 and 1972, but Johnny Bucyk accepted the trophy both years and played in the clinching game.
Stamkos has been battling an undisclosed injury throughout these playoffs. He made an emotional return for Game 3 of the Cup Final against the Dallas Stars and scored a beautiful goal, but was unable to play after the first period that night.
The 30-year-old saw a total of five shifts while spending nine weeks inside the NHL bubble rehabbing.
“He gamed it out,” said Cooper. “To be honest I didn’t think he was playing at all in these playoffs. I don’t think any of us did. So he gave us 2:47 of brilliant hockey, that’s a phenomenal story.
“He scored a huge goal for us in a win.”
The Lightning hold a 3-2 series lead over Dallas entering Game 6 on Monday.
Stamkos is the longest-tenured member of the organization and has endured a difficult run of injuries throughout his career. A broken leg saw him miss the chance to play for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and blood clots forced him out of all but one game of Tampa’s 2016 run to the Eastern Conference Final.
He had a 15-game points streak going when he got injured on Feb. 25 this season. That was followed by core muscle surgery on March 2. Stamkos appeared to be on the mend while participating in training camp following the COVID-19 pause, but he suffered some kind of setback that kept him out until the brief, memorable appearance in this Stanley Cup Final.
“He did everything he could to get back, and he did get back, and unfortunately he couldn’t go any further,” said Cooper.
From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.
It’s been a difficult journey.
Stamkos was clearly moved after being called out to join Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn in accepting the Prince of Wales Trophy last round and sounded emotional after scoring against Dallas in the Game 3 win.
He remained on the bench throughout that game, and tested his skating stride during a couple television timeouts, but didn’t play for the final 46 minutes. He gave everything he could.
“I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true and I’m so proud of these guys,” Stamkos said that night. “And to be able to share that moment with them and just even be on the bench and watch how well we played tonight, I have told these guys before: It’s inspiring.
“It was great to be part of.”
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