Last season, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos awoke from an early-season scoring slumber with a hat trick in game No. 4 against Florida en route to an injury-abbreviated 25 goals for the season.
In 2014-15, it took Stamkos just three games to announce his presence.
Stamkos, who entered Monday’s Atlantic Division tilt against Montreal with just one point and no goals, recorded his eighth career hat trick in game No. 3, pacing the Lightning past the Canadiens 7-1 in front of 17,622 at Amalie Arena.
“I’ve learned over the years that you stick with it. You get one, usually the floodgates open up,” Stamkos said. “You play with more confidence. You have a little more poise with the puck. I think that was the case tonight. I obviously felt the best so far on this young season, but you get one, you get things rolling.”
Stamkos tied former Lightning star Marty St. Louis on Monday for most career hat tricks in franchise history.
“Stammer was due,” Lightning starting goaltender Ben Bishop said. “He was a little upset with himself first couple of games, and he goes out and shows why he’s one of the best players in the world.”
In the days leading up to Tampa Bay’s rematch with Montreal, Lightning players and coaches claimed revenge wasn’t on their mind.
Last season’s 4-0 sweep by the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals was in the past they said.
Tampa Bay’s inspired play Monday night certainly indicated otherwise.
“That was the best we’ve played so far for a full 60 minutes,” Stamkos said. “That’s what we need. We need to play like that. We need to play with poise when we had the lead, and we did that tonight.”
Victor Hedman scored his third goal of the season and third in three games to give the Lightning (2-0-1, 5 points) the early lead. With a pile-up of players in front of the Montreal goal, the puck squirted to the slot, where Hedman backhanded a shot past Montreal goalie Carey Price (19 saves on 23 shots).
“You need confidence, you need skill and you need a little bit of puck luck, and (Hedman) is getting that right now,” Stamkos said. “He deserves everything he’s getting because of the work he’s put in. He’s matured as a person and as a player over the year.”
Four minutes later, Steven Stamkos made it 2-0 Lightning on his first goal of the season. With the Bolts on their opening power play of the evening, Stamkos, aided by Ryan Callahan creating a distraction in front of the net, sent a wrist shot past Price. Callahan and Hedman assisted.
“(Callahan) made a great play to get him the puck on the power play, but (Stamkos) showed great hands on that one,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Leading 2-1 in the second, Stamkos scored on a breakaway with 6:45 remaining in the period, calmly shifting the puck between his backhand and forehand before shooting into the goal for a 3-1 advantage, Hedman sent a pass nearly the length of the ice to Stamkos’ stick to collect his second assist.
“He’s getting better with each game,” Cooper said. “He’s still trending upward. I think he’s got a lot more to give. But Stammer’s a shooter, a scorer.”
Stamkos earned the hat trick at 1:46 of the second period. With the Lightning on the power play, the Bolts captain, from Valtteri Filppula and Hedman, unleashed a slap shot on the far edge of the right circle to beat Price.
“It’s funny how the hockey gods work,” Stamkos said. “For me, I’ve learned over my career just to stick with it. It’s pretty easy to get frustrated. For a lot of people, two games without a goal is not a big deal.”
Hedman set a career-high with four points and tied a career-best with his three assists. He currently leads the NHL in total points with seven.
“I thought my game was the best I’ve played this short season.” Hedman said.
For Filppula, the assist was his fourth in three games.
Leading 4-1 entering the third, Ryan Callahan put the game out of reach. The Rochester, N.Y., native made a nice individual move to discard P.K. Subban and beat Montreal backup goalie Dustin Tokarski, who started the third period in place of Price, for his second goal of the season and a 5-1 Lightning advantage. Matt Carle earned his first point of 2014-15 with the assist.
Ondrej Palat continued the scoring onslaught just 17 seconds later. Brian Boyle snared a loose puck in the crease and backhanded a pass blindly to the back post for Palat, who easily beat Tokarski for his first of the year.
“That was impressive,” Hedman said. “That was the message coming in [to second intermission]. We knew Montreal came back twice from three-goal deficits. I was very pleased to see the way the team came out and score a few more goals and shut the game down.”
Late in the third, Namestnikov scored the first goal of his NHL career, one-timing a shot past Tokarski on a feed from Kucherov behind the net.
With Tampa Bay ahead 2-0, Montreal (3-1-0, 6 points) cut the lead in half with a goal by Brendan Gallagher from Jarred Tinordi and Mike Weaver at 12:16 of the first period.
The Canadiens nearly tied the score in the second period when Jiri Sekac had a wide-open goal on a rebound opportunity, but Bolts defenseman Anton Stralman slid across the crease and made a spectacular save with his back leg to keep the puck out of the goal.
“That was nice,” Bishop said. “Two-pad stack. That was actually huge at a huge time of the game.”
From there, the Lightning rolled.
Bishop saved 16-of-17 shots for his second win in three tries this season. Tampa Bay outshot Montreal 41-17.
The Lightning conclude their season-opening four-game home stand Tuesday against the undefeated New Jersey Devils at Amalie Arena before embarking on a five-game road trip to Western Canada and Minnesota. Puck drop for Tuesday’s game versus the Devils is 7:30 p.m.