Steven Stamkos produced a convincing display of why he has become one of the premier players in the NHL as he broke through the 50-goal barrier while netting two power play goals and collecting the shootout winner as the Tampa Bay Lightning closed out the ’09 -10 home season with a second consecutive shootout win, defeating the Florida Panthers, 4-3, at the St. Pete Times Forum tonight.
Stamkos wasted little time extending his league lead in power play goals when he scored 4:11 into the first period for his 49th goal of the season. The score, assisted by Kurtis Foster and Martin St. Louis, was a Stamkos classic; a one-time blast from the left face-off circle that blew by Florida netminder Scott Clemmensen to send Tampa Bay to a 1-0 advantage.
The crowd of 17,050 was primed to see the Lightning sophomore center score again, and Stamkos didn’t disappoint as he scored his 50th of the season when his wrist shot skidded past Clemmensen at 5:28 of the second period. It was his second power play goal of the contest and allowed the Lightning to reclaim the lead after Stephen Weiss had tied the game for the Panthers late in period one.
The goal, assisted by Andrej Meszaros and Zenon Konopka, set off a wild celebration along the boards as Stamkos was congratulated by his teammates. He became only the second Tampa Bay Lightning player to tally 50 in a season, joining the exclusive club with Vincent Lecavalier, who scored 52 goals in the ’06-’07 season.
“I can’t even explain what I feel,” Stamkos said after the game. “Sheer joy, happiness. Just seeing the guys come and jump all over me and to share it with the teammates that have really been there since day one and that have helped me and pushed me to be the player I am. They really helped me get that goal.”
With the two goals on the night, Stamkos moved into a tie for first place in the goal scoring race with Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, with one game remaining in the season for each player.
St. Louis helped Tampa Bay open a 3-1 lead when he scored his 29th goal of the season at 10: 24 of the second period, on a wrist shot from 20 feet that was set up by Stamkos and Foster.
The Panthers, meanwhile, did not go easily as they almost put a damper on the celebration when Michael Frolik and Nathan Horton both scored to tie the score at 3-3 at the close of regulation.
Each team managed two shots on net during the 4-on-4 overtime period, with Nathan Horton of the Panthers getting the best scoring opportunity when he broke in alone on Lightning netminder Antero Niittymaki just 44 seconds into the extra stanza. Niittymaki, who finished with 29 saves to earn his 21st win of the season, stayed with Horton and made the save.
In the ensuing shootout, fittingly enough, Stamkos put the final exclamation point on his historic evening when he deked to his backhand and beat Clemmensen to secure the win for the Lightning.
“It’s going to take a couple of days to sink in,” Stamkos said about scoring 50 goals in a season. “They can never take that away from me. It was definitely a big moment in my career and hopefully there will be a lot more…”
His next big moment may come tomorrow night, when the Lightning close out the season in Sunrise against the Panthers. Stamkos, with a little help from his teammates, will be hunting for the Rocket Richard Trophy, signifying the league leader in goals.
BOLT NOTES: Stamkos took 10 shots on net, his high for any game in the season. He had another eight attempts blocked by the Panthers and two shots missed the net… Teddy Purcell was second on the team with seven shots on net… The shootout win moved the Lightning franchise into the black lifetime on shootouts, 25-24…Tampa Bay outshot the Panthers, 37-32, and had an additional 26 shots blocked by Florida players…With three points and two points, respectively, Stamkos and St. Louis are tied for the team lead in points with 94.
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