Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos joined an exclusive club Saturday night.
The Tampa Bay Lightning forwards finished the regular season one and two, respectively, in the NHL points race to become the first duo to accomplish the feat since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr during the 1995-96 season.
St. Louis had a goal and an assist to register 60 points on the year, while Stamkos recorded a helper to finish three behind his teammate with 57, albeit in a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers in the regular season finale at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Still, in spite of the result, the individual accomplishments proved to be a positive takeaway in what both players described as a disappointing season in which the Lightning missed out on the playoffs.
“I’m proud obviously,” St. Louis said. “But I would trade a lot to be in the playoffs and to have another chance at a Stanley Cup. But when all that goes away, you try to finish strong and play the right way.”
At age 37, St. Louis is the oldest player to ever win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading point getter.
As for he and Stamkos combined, only the pairs of Lemieux and Jagr, Lemieux and Kevin Stevens, Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri, Gretzky and Paul Coffee, and last but not least, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, have also finished the regular season one and two, respectively, in points since the 1974-75 season.
“I’m really proud to be a part of history,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “What a feat. [Marty] is the type of guy too that wanted to win this game and that is a tribute to everything about him. He puts the team first.”
Matt Carle and Ryan Malone had the other goals for Tampa Bay, which capped off its season with an 18-26-4 record.
Anders Lindback made 27 saves.
Tomas Fleischmann scored twice for Florida, which ended the campaign four points behind its in-state rivals in the Eastern Conference standings with a mark of 15-27-6.
Scottie Upshall and Nick Bjugstad had the other goals for the Panthers, and Marcel Goc capped the scoring with an empty-net tally late in the third period.
Jonathan Huberdeau registered three assists in the victory.
“I played with Fleischmann and Goc and it was nice,” Huberdeau said. “We finally found some chemistry all together. I think it really worked out tonight.”
Florida didn’t take its first lead of the game until 13:53 of the third when Fleischmann finished off an odd-man rush with Huberdeau to snap a 3-3 tie and go up by one with a goal that eventually held up as the game winner.
The conclusion of the game, however, was far different than the start of the contest.
Tampa Bay generated a lot of good chances early, including when Benoit Pouliot drew a penalty that earned him a penalty shot just 1:10 into the game.
Pouliot skated in with speed on Jacob Markstrom, pulled the goaltender out wide on the forehand, then brought the puck to the backhand in an attempt to tuck it behind Markstrom’s skate, but to no avail.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay put the first goal up on the board just minutes later after Carle sent a shot from inside the blue line that snuck past Markstrom for a 1-0 advantage.
Malone then doubled the lead to two after cleaning up a rebound and sending a wrist shot into an open cage just 8:14 later.
Markstrom finished with 28 saves on the evening.
The Lightning’s lead, however, wouldn’t last.
Bjugstad’s first career goal trimmed the deficit to just one at 16:54 of the first, and Fleischmann tied it 54 seconds into the second frame at two goals apiece.
Tampa Bay reclaimed its one-goal lead at 5:47 of the second after St. Louis padded his lead in the scoring race with a tally that marked his 60th point, but Upshall tied it in the third to bring the score to 3-3.
After Fleischmann’s second of the game gave Florida the one-goal advantage, Goc finished it off with an empty-net tally at 19:11 of the third to cap a three-goal third period for the Panthers, sealing the win.
“One of the things [looking ahead to next season] is we have to accelerate the process,” Cooper added. “Marty is 37 and we need to take advantage of him being at the top of his game. We have the top two scorers in the league and we aren’t making the playoffs. That is where we have to turn that into winning hockey games.”