Steven Stamkos certainly saved the best for last.
The Lightning second-year forward scored his 51st goal of the season into an empty net with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to claim a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy in Tampa Bay’s season finale, a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
“It was pretty surreal to be involved in that right down to the last game,” Stamkos said. “I just wanted to go out and have fun. I was going to try my best and hoped that I could do it.”
Stamkos’ bid to become the youngest player in NHL history to win the goal-scoring title outright was spoiled Sunday afternoon when Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby added a pair of goals to match Stamkos’ total in a 6-5 overtime win against the Islanders. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin remained at 50 after he was held scoreless earlier in the day in the Capitals’ loss to Boston.
It didn’t matter for the 2008 first overall draft pick, who bumped ahead of Crosby just the night before with goals 49 and 50 in the team’s 4-3 shootout win over the Panthers at the St. Pete Times Forum.
“It’s special. It’s a once-in-a lifetime thing to do this early in my career,” Stamkos added. “On Saturday with my dad in the crowd and on home ice, it was truly a special feeling to get 50. I don’t think it’s sunk in quite yet.”
Mike Smith turned back 30 shots for the Lightning, and Alex Tanguay and Vincent Lecavalier each had a goal and an assist to cap the 2009-10 season on a three-game winning streak.
Rostislav Olesz tallied the lone goal for Florida, who finished its season with just one win in its last five, and three points behind Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division’s final standings.
Olesz put Florida up 1-0 with a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Smith at 2:06 to open the game.
Lecavalier then scored halfway through the first after finishing off a nifty passing play with Tanguay, who just 2:19 before, broke out of a 21-game goal-scoring drought to even the score after putting in a rebound on a shot by Brandon Bochenski.
“I’ve had a struggle all year, but tonight I was just having fun,” Tanguay said. “It was nice to get some confidence back and I hope that will carry into next year.”
Stamkos added the empty-netter with 12 seconds remaining in regulation after chasing a loose puck into the high slot while leaving two Panthers behind in his path.
“I knew if I just pushed the puck ahead, with the speed he has, he would get it. It was nice to set up for him for sure,” Lecavalier said.
The Lightning’s third straight victory pushed the team to 7-4-1 in the second half of back-to-back games and earned it its 80th point in the standings, claiming the best finish since concluding the 2006-07 season with 93 points.
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