There are two appropriately hyped franchise stars in this second-round series. One of them holds a grudge against the other, and it's not just because John Tavares gets to play while Steven Stamkos must sit out.
Okay, not exactly.
Stamkos and Tavares, the respective captains of the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders taken at the top of consecutive NHL drafts in 2008 and 2009, are two of the more likable, respectful competitors and superstars in the league. Stories about their links go back to before their draft years -- there was speculation whether the born-one-day-late Tavares would petition to be in the '08 draft too -- and back to Stamkos as a humble star even at age 10.
They aren't facing off yet -- and likely won't at all -- in Eastern Conference playoff series because surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome (the same condition that took out Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech for the second half of the season) has kept Stamkos out of the lineup.
But Stamkos is skating, preparing for whenever he can stop taking blood thinners and return to the lineup ("could be weeks, could be months"). That means he's around to entertain media who aren't fishing for tea leaves on whether he'll flee as a free agent this summer.
During the first of two days between Games 1 and 2, reporters had fun probing for tales from their days as youth prodigies. Turns out Stamkos wears 91 because his dad let Tavares have 19 first, per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:
Stamkos says Tavares a reason he wears 91. He and Tavares wore 19, but on summer team as kid Stamkos' dad gave Tavares 19. "No favorites."— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) April 28, 2016
And then, via Mark Herrmann of Newsday, a tale that rings a bell for Isles fans who have seen Tavares struggle with his slow-mo shootout attempts for the Isles:
Stamkos said he and Tavares played on same summer lg team growing up. Went 49-0-1. Loss was in a shootout to an Ottawa team— Mark Herrmann (@markpherrmann) April 28, 2016
Stamkos with a grin said they lost because JT missed. "My dad was the coach and he picked Johnny."— Mark Herrmann (@markpherrmann) April 28, 2016
Thankfully the breakaway drill isn't used to decide playoff games.
It's a shame for hockey fans that the two stars are not squaring off this series. But Isles fans, who haven't exactly experienced many lucky breaks the last two decades, don't mind seeing just one 91 right now. So far, it's been his time.