After seeing his dream of making it back to the Stanley Cup Final come to an end, Steven Stamkos wasn’t ready to discuss his future.
Reality has set in as the Lightning fell to the Penguins, 2-1, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, losing out on their bid to reach back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The Lightning toppled the Rangers on the road last year before falling to the Blackhawks in six games in the Final.
This year, they didn’t have another magical road Game 7 in the tank. Stamkos returned to the lineup for the first time since undergoing surgery on a blood clot near his collarbone, suiting up for the first time since March 31.
He was held off the scoresheet in his first game back despite some amazing chances, and now the reality is he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if the Lightning fails to extend his contract.
That doesn’t mean he wanted to discuss it when the topic of free agency was broached. A reporter asked him following Game 7 whether or not he considered the possibility of it being his final game in a Lightning uniform.
“No,” Stamkos said, according to NHL.com.
Clearly, there is plenty of time for that discussion between now and July 1.
Rookie Bryan Rust scored twice for the Penguins, his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs, including what proved to be the game-winner at 10:06 of the second period, which negated Jonathan Drouin’s equalizer.
The center made a surprising return to the lineup after sitting out the entire playoff run, putting two shots on goal in 11:55 of ice time and finishing a minus-1.
Stamkos, 26, was selected first overall by the Lightning in the 2008 NHL Draft and has 312 goals and 250 assists for 562 points throughout 569 regular season games with Tampa Bay. He’s also 15-20–35 through 49 postseason games.
While his future remains a mystery, Stamkos was solely focused on the sting of another playoff elimination as the club continues to eye its first Stanley Cup since 2004.
“It stings right now, obviously, this close to getting back to something we were at last year and we had a good chance to get to this year,” Stamkos said. “You’ve got to give them some credit. They played a [heck]of a game.”
© 2018 Sportsworldnews.com All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.