BRANDON, Fla. -- In the early months of the NHL season, Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay, coming off their shared Maurice Richard Trophy, staged a goal-scoring duel.
The biggest questions were which would get to 50 goals first, and who would claim the Richard Trophy for most goals this time.
The duel never materialized.
Crosby missed the second half of the season and the first two games of his team's playoff series against the Lightning because of a concussion, with no chance of him playing in Game 3 tonight in Tampa.
Stamkos played every Lightning game this season, but he scored only 14 of his 45 goals in the second half and has five in his past 30 games, including no points and just two shots through the first two games of his first NHL playoff series.
Stamkos, 21, figures he will work his way out of his slump the conventional way.
"You get out of it, you find your game and you get your confidence back," he said Sunday after Tampa Bay practiced at the Ice Sports Forum. "It's something I'm looking forward to."
That's pretty much all he can do, said Lightning coach Guy Boucher.
"Right now, it's about the small details, paying the price," Boucher said.
Boucher has shifted Stamkos between center and wing this season. In the series against the Penguins, Stamkos has found himself taking shifts on pretty much every line at times. That's a product of Boucher's style, not necessarily an indication that the coach has lost patience with the 2008 first overall pick in the NHL draft.
"Nigel [Kirwan, Lightning video coach] is trying to keep up with my line changes with the video," Boucher said. "He's going nuts."
Tampa Bay winger Ryan Malone has only to look at his own maturation to quickly want to give Stamkos a lot more than two games to adjust to the NHL postseason.
Malone was 27 and a homegrown member of the Penguins when he made his playoff debut in 2007. He had no points and a plus-minus rating of minus-5 as the Penguins lost to Ottawa in five games in the opening round.
"We got pinned in our end the first 10 minutes of the first game," Malone recalled. "It felt like they had 10 guys on the ice."
So perhaps Stamkos deserves a little slack.
"He's played two playoff games," Malone said. "They always say the playoffs are different, but you don't really know that until you play in them. Even myself, you learn something after every playoff game. That's what the real hockey is about.
"You think you had a good regular season, but it all comes down to the playoffs and what you can do. It's a learning experience for everybody. I think [Stamkos] is learning that as well right now."
Also making his NHL playoff debut in that 2007 series against Ottawa was Crosby, then 19. Like Stamkos, he had no points in his first two games, but finished with three goals and five points over the last three games of that round and helped lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup final the next two years, with a championship in 2009.
Crosby revealed after that 2007 series against Ottawa that he had been playing despite a broken bone in his foot. Stamkos, whose booming shot seems to have gone missing, was pressed about whether he is dealing with a physical problem.
"It's just the natural bumps and bruises along the way," Stamkos said. "I think if you went around the [dressing] room, you could find someone with something every game of the year. It's just the ability to play through that.
"Sure, sometimes things bother you, but especially now, during the playoffs, you've got to play through pretty much whatever you can if you can walk."