TAMPA, Fla. — Steven Stamkos did the little things for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first eight playoff games. He just didn’t score.

Stamkos finally got his first goal Sunday night in Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens, and based on the chances he had been getting is poised to make sure that’s the first of many in the near future.

“If we want to do damage, he’s going to have to lead the way,” centre Brian Boyle said. “He puts all the pressure on himself to score. It doesn’t matter how well he’s doing all the other things. He wants to score goals, and we’re going to need him to.”

The Lightning got past the Detroit Red Wings in seven games because 11 different players scored, led by Tyler Johnson with six goals. Tampa Bay’s offensive depth and winning made it easier for Stamkos to stomach his drought, but he still didn’t feel right.

Like many elite scorers, Stamkos is at his best when he’s putting the puck in the net.

“When you’re pressing, you’re certainly not as comfortable and confident on the ice as you are when things are going well,” Stamkos said Wednesday. “When things aren’t going well and you get a break to go your way, all of a sudden your legs feel a little lighter, you feel a little more confident with the puck.”

The Lightning are also at their best when Stamkos is clicking. The “Triplets” line of Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov is capable of handling the workload and producing, but Stamkos had 43 goals in the regular season and the Lightning are sparked by his offence.

“That brings a whole different dimension to our team,” Johnson said. “He’s a leader, he’s the heart-and-soul, so when he’s scoring, putting the pucks in the net, it relieves some pressure from everybody else.”

That pressure seemed heavy on Stamkos late in the first round when the Lightning were down three games to two and facing elimination in Detroit. Tampa Bay’s captain insisted he wasn’t hurt, and his teammates and coach Jon Cooper figured a breakthrough was coming.

Now that it has, the Lightning believe Stamkos can lead them deep into these playoffs.

“When Steven Stamkos scores a goal, we win considerably more games than we lose,” Cooper said. “If we want to have our best chance of winning, it’s better when Stammer gets on the board.”

Cooper said the Lightning are extra confident because they know they can win even when Stamkos doesn’t score. The first round was proof enough of that.

And even though the Markham, Ont., native wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t in a funk that knocked him completely off his game.

“That would be the red flag for me if Stammer wasn’t working or he was cheating the game and doing all these things to just try and find his way on the score sheet,” Cooper said. “He (was) not doing that. He’s been playing games the right way and sometimes it’s hard mentally on you to keep doing this and not get rewarded.”

Finally rewarded in Game 2, Stamkos felt a burden lifted. That feeling carried over to the rest of the Lightning.

“He scores, you can see a whole lift on the bench,” winger Ryan Callahan said. “He’s so good for us, and you can see when he scores how much everybody feeds off that and the energy that gives us.”

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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press

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