Stamkos similar to Sid, Boucher says

Steve Stamkos competes for fastest skater during the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend.  (Kevin C....

Steve Stamkos competes for fastest skater during the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:49 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Some of the same things Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher saw in a 16-year-old Sidney Crosby, he sees in a 21-year-old Steven Stamkos.

And it is because of those observations that Boucher believes his budding superstar won't take long to make an impact at the time of year all of the game's true greats shine.

Not only was the Unionville, Ont. native held off the scoreboard in Monday's 3-0 loss to the Penguins to open the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal, Stamkos was held to just one shot on net.

As brilliant as Stamkos has been at times in his young career, these have been challenging times. His goal-scoring tapered off in the second half as he saw top defensive pairings around the league and now, in the first playoff series of his pro career, the pressure to become "the next one" is clearly on his shoulders.

"At the end of the day, you look for your offensive guys and your top guys to produce offence," Stamkos said Thursday after the Lightning finished an hour-long practice at the Consol Energy Center that was preceded by an hour-long video session.

"When we get shut out, we obviously didn't do our jobs. I know I have to step up my game a little higher and go to the net more."

All the chalkboard talk in Boucher's rather extensive vocabulary won't make up for the new-style Penguins' relentless commitment to defence that held the trio of Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis in check on Wednesday.

But Boucher, who was an assistant coach in Rimouski when a fuzzy-cheeked Crosby began his major junior career, says Stamkos has a relentless drive to improve. Boucher tells the story about how Crosby would ask to be cross-checked all over the ice during practice to make him tougher and ready to take the physical abuse he knew was coming.

"The fact is, it was (Stamkos') very first playoff game," Boucher said. "I saw (Washington's Alex Ovechkin) talk the other day about it taking three years to figure out how to compete in the playoffs.

"There's a lot to learn there, but what I like about him is he's very honest, he's very smart and humble enough to say he's got a lot to learn.

"Sidney was the same way. He's got a good way of evaluating himself, which is going to help him in the long run for sure."

The difficulty, of course, will be to find a way to make meaningful adjustments against a Penguins team committed to a relentless and physical defensive system. What we saw Wednesday was, as Lightning forward Simon Gagne put it, "not the Penguins everyone expects." Time and space for players such as Stamkos was severely constricted.

"When our team is healthy and we have all our talented guys in the lineup, people are so focussed on them that you forget what kind of a core we have," Penguins centre Mike Rupp said. "Inside this room, we feel like we have established ourselves.

"We understand we have a chance to win every night."

If they didn't know it before the series began, the Lightning surely must by now.

For Stamkos, the welcome-to-the-playoffs moment came minutes in when he was rattled hard into the boards by Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik, a play that set the tone for the rest of Game 1.

By all accounts, Stamkos is bound for certain stardom. He became just the sixth player in NHL history to reach 100 career goals before age 21, was second in the league in goal scoring this year (45) and had an impressive eight game-winning goals.

But the best hockey reputations are made after April 1, a pursuit the young Lightning star is anxious to establish.

"At the end of the day, this is what you play for all season, you play your ass off to get here," Stamkos said. "You can have a great season, but if your team doesn't do well in the playoffs, that's how you are remembered."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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