Steven Stamkos’ first career hat trick sparked a goal-scoring binge that brought him into Friday’s game with the most goals in the NHL since that magical day.
After recording his second three-goal night which put him at eight goals through just seven games this year following a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena, it’s scary to think about what the future holds in store.
The Lightning forward scored three times, including once with the man advantage, and led all scorers with four points as Tampa Bay won for the fifth time in seven games this season.
Stamkos, who recorded his first career hat trick back on Feb. 17, 2009 at the United Center, entered Friday’s contest with an NHL-best 72 goals since then and exited with a personal-best 21 points in 14 career games versus Atlanta, his most against any opponent.
“The big thing for tonight’s game was to start strong,” Stamkos said. “We just had to get shots on net and play our game.”
The Lightning rebounded from a tough loss just the night before, improving to 2-0-0 this season in the back half of games on consecutive nights.
Mike Smith improved to 4-0-0 for the first time in his career, while he also picked up his fourth consecutive win on the road after stopping 28 of 30 shots on the night.
“It’s always nice to get wins, especially when the team plays like that in front of me,” Smith said.
Atlanta lost for the second time in four games as well as for the seventh consecutive time against Tampa Bay, despite getting a pair of goals from Jim Slater and Dustin Byfuglien.
“I felt the last game we played we were good, but that wasn’t enough,” Head Coach Guy Boucher said. “We want to be great.”
Much like the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner, his team was exactly that to start the contest.
Tampa Bay scored three times in the first period, including twice with the man advantage, receiving goals from Brett Clark, Vincent Lecavalier and Stamkos.
Ryan Malone got things started when he set up a screen in front of Atlanta goaltender Chris Mason, which allowed Clark to open scoring on the power play at 3:10.
Lecavalier scored to make it 2-0 after Sean Bergenheim came up with a steal in the Thrashers’ defensive zone before finding the Lightning captain, who wristed one glove side past Mason at 16:05.
“It was a great play by Bergie,” Lecavalier said. “I just put it on net. It wasn’t really a good shot, but sometimes you get those and they go in.”
Stamkos increased the lead with the man advantage just 1:45 later, converting with a patented one-timer from the left circle.
“I just tried to get the shot on net,” Stamkos said. “Vinny [Lecavalier] made a great play by getting the puck to the other side and I just tried to put it in.”
Atlanta finally got on the board when Slater cleaned up in front of the net and put back a rebound past Smith in the second period, but Stamkos converted on a similar play later in the frame to re-establish Tampa Bay’s three-goal.
Byfuglien cut the deficit in half with a slap shot on the power play at 13:36 in the third, but even Stamkos’ final goal to cap the scoring as well as his second career hat trick was not enough to take credit for what turned out to be a complete team victory.
“Smitty really wanted to get back after the Dallas game where he thought he could have played better,” Stamkos said. “He really played the puck well tonight.”
“We came out ready to play tonight right from the get-go,” Lecavalier added. “Everybody was sharp.”
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