Whether Steven Stamkos plays again in the Stanley Cup final is beside the point.
His presence on the ice in Game 3 ended a 21-game stretch in the playoffs, including the round robin, that the Lightning played without their captain.
And that, in itself, was enough.
The 2 minutes, 47 seconds of ice time that Stamkos logged in the first period Wednesday allowed Tampa Bay to avoid being on the wrong side of an almost unbeatable historical trend.
For only once in the past 40 years has a team gone on to win the Cup without their captain playing in the postseason: the 1979 Montreal Canadiens, who completed their 16-game run without Yvan Cournoyer.
That Stamkos scored on his first shot, helping the Lightning to a 5-2 win and 2-1 series lead over the Stars, was a bonus.
A captain's role in the postseason cannot be understated, especially with his team playing in the final, said Lightning television analyst Brian Engblom, who played two seasons with Cournoyer before the captain's retirement in 1979.
"(Stamkos is) at the top level of the entire league," said Engblom, 65. "He's had a star quality for a very long time and has shown great leadership skills over the last three or four years. And he learned his way along. He watched the guys that he played with when he was a kid first coming in, and he's a very smart guy and he carries himself very well. That's always important for a captain."
The 1982 Canucks saw the difference a captain can make when Kevin McCarthy suffered a broken ankle just before the start of the playoffs. Vancouver had to play all 17 postseason games without him and were swept by the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup final.
The '79 Canadiens met a better fate without Conoyer, who hoisted the Stanley Cup 10 times in his career, including four straight as captain between 1976-79.