TAMPA, Fla. – Steven Stamkos joined an elite group of NHL goal scorers and his biggest fans was in the stands to see it.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft became the third-youngest player to score 50 goals in a season, and he scored the only goal in the shootout to lead Tampa Bay to a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers in the Lightning’s home finale Saturday night. Stamkos’ father was in attendance, adding to the excitement of the night for the forward.
“He sent me a text a couple of weeks ago just telling me to stay focused,” Stamkos said about his father. “My emotions were running when it went in and he was in the stands. It was pretty special. They can never take that away from you.”
At 20 years, two months and three days, only Wayne Gretzky (19 years, two months) and Jimmy Carson had 50-goal seasons earlier than Stamkos – the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Going into Sunday’s season finale against Florida, Stamkos is within reach of Vincent Lecavalier’s franchise record of 52 goals.
“In between the second and third, Vinny came up to me and said, ‘Welcome to the club,”‘ Stamkos added. “That was pretty special to be able to hear that.
“I also have to give a lot of credit to Marty St. Louis. He’s been a big mentor of mine and he’s pushed me to be the player I am today.”
The milestone goal came on a power play in the second period. He took a pass from Andrej Meszaros at the point and blasted a wrist shot past Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Stamkos was quickly mobbed by his teammates as the announced crowd of 17,050 roared in approval.
“I’m sure a lot of the guys were passing up opportunities and were trying to get the puck to me,” Stamkos said. “I want to thank them for that. It was pretty special to do it on home ice in a win.”
Stamkos was the first player in the shootout session and scored with a backhand flip. Lightning goalie Antero Nittymaki made that goal stand up when he stopped Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton and Mike Frolik.
Stamkos has been one of the few bright spots for Tampa Bay team that won’t be in the playoffs.
“I don’t want to put pressure on him, the one thing I think is that he’s emerging as a leader,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “He expects this of himself. That’s what I like about him, that he is willing to do the work.
The Lightning held a 3-2 lead midway through the third period when Nathan Horton took advantage of an errant pass and slipped a backhand shot past Antero Nittymaki on the ensuing breakaway.
Nittymaki recovered and stopped Horton on a second breakaway with less than five minutes remaining in regulation. He finished with 29 saves.
Clemmensen had 34 saves and stopped Alex Tanguay on a breakway with under a minute remaining in regulation to send the game to the extra period.
Stamkos’ first goal came on a power play less than five minutes into the first period to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
Florida tied it at 1 when Stephen Weiss scored on a shot that was accidentally deflected by Lightning defenceman Mattias Ohlund.
St. Louis had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay. Frolik scored for Florida and Horton had two assists.
NOTES: The victory snapped an eight-game losing streak in home closers for the Lightning. … … Lightning F Todd Fedoruk left the game in the second period with a lower back injury and did not return.