Prior to taking the ice to play in the final home game of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to put on one final show for a sellout crowd of 19,204 loyal fans at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
And who better to help them do just that than the NHL’s leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos scored twice in the final 1:03 of regulation and added an assist on the night to help the Lightning earn a 4-2 victory over the division-rival Washington Capitals on Monday night.
Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman also had goals for the Lightning, which finished off the home portion of the regular season schedule with two consecutive victories.
“This was a positive for our team,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “It’s been a very difficult year because of circumstances and injuries, but the one thing I can retain for this year is that we are building. We need to see this season not as a negative, but as a positive sign and a building block.”
With the game tied 2-2 with 63 seconds remaining in regulation, Stamkos pulled the Lightning ahead when he collected a rebound out in front of the net and whacked it home past Michal Neuvirth after the goaltender had initially stopped an attempt by Brett Clark from the blue line. The Lightning forward then scored into an empty net just before the final horn sounded to make it 4-2 and record his league-best 58th goal of the season. He now has points in six straight games, including eight goals in that span.
“That was the hardest, the luckiest, the flukiest one, and maybe one with a little bit of skill,” Stamkos said of his empty-netter. “It looked like it was going to hit the post square on. I was just trying hard to get the shot off.”
Alex Semin and Jason Chimera each had goals for Washington, which saw a modest two-game win streak come to an end.
As a result of the loss, the Capitals remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings and have a slim two-point lead over the Buffalo Sabres with two games remaining.
Neuvirth finished with 23 saves.
“Not being able to get a point is disappointing to say the least,” Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said. “We need to close out teams.”
With the Lightning clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the game, Chimera drew Washington even with 3:17 left in regulation when he cleaned up a rebound around the net and sent a shot past the outstretched pad of Dwayne Roloson for his 20th goal of the year.
Roloson made 31 saves on the night and was named the First Star of the contest.
He turned back several good Washington scoring chances in the first period, including one each from Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. He then followed up with a pair of brilliant glove saves in the second frame to deny both Mike Green, as well as Chimera.
“He was huge and he was our best player by far,” Stamkos said of Roloson. “It was incredible for him to go out in our last home game like that and show what kind of person and player he is. He never gives up. His determination is contagious. He’s played so hard throughout this season.”
Semin opened the scoring late in the second period to give Washington a 1-0 lead after the teams went scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Purcell and Hedman then scored 25 seconds apart to erase the one-goal deficit.
After Purcell scored from the left circle during a power play with 2:40 to go in the middle frame, Hedman beat Neuvirth with a shot from the blue line that put the Lightning ahead 2-1 at 17:45.
The victory was Tampa Bay’s 25th at home this season, tying the franchise single-season record.