WINNIPEG – Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos joined the NHL’s 60-goal club Saturday night and got a standing ovation from one of the loudest and most partisan crowds in the NHL as a reward.
The 22-year-old former No. 1 draft pick scored at 3:29 of the third period as the Lightning beat Winnipeg 4-3 in overtime in the Jets’ last home game of the season.
The Jets fans had been giving Stamkos a hard time all night, but they showered the Markham, Ont., native with praise after his milestone goal.
“They were booing me all game and when that went in they obviously knew the magnitude of that goal and I have a lot of respect for all the fans here,” Stamkos said.
“That made it even more special, to like I said do it in Canada and have them do an ovation like that, it was amazing.”
It was the last game for both teams as they missed the playoffs this season.
Stamkos put a shot past goaltender Ondrej Pavelec’s glove on a pass from Martin St. Louis to put Tampa ahead 3-1. The Jets tied the game in the dying seconds and forced it into overtime, but Teddy Purcell scored his third of the night to give Tampa a 4-3 victory.
Winnipeg fans had been chanting “No goal Stamkos” all night every time he had a chance at the puck.
Just 19 players have scored 60 goals or more in a single season. The exclusive group includes legends such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull.
Alex Ovechkin is the only player to score 60 since 1996. The Washington Capitals star had 65 goals in the 2007-08 season.
Only three other NHL players have even hit 40 this season as scoring around the league continues to decline.
Stamkos had a lot of chances but nothing clicked until the third.
“I was really focused on trying not to get too discouraged.”
The Jets didn’t begrudge Stamkos his moment and were pleased at they way their fans reacted.
“I’m very impressed with him and very impressed with the way our fans were respectful of him,” said Winnipeg coach Claude Noel.
“I thought it was a really good moment for our fans and I thought it was a classy move on our part, from the fans’ standpoint, and the ovation they gave him.”
Jets centre Jim Slater agreed.
“Anyone that does that definitely deserves an ovation. I don’t know if many other buildings would do it, but it was actually kind of good to see our fans do it.”
Tampa coach Guy Boucher said it may be cliche but Stamkos is one of those stars who always thinks of the team first.
“What I like about Steven’s accomplishments is he always makes it a team thing, he makes the players a part of it,” he said.
“What I like is he just pushes always for more. He just wants more all the time. It’s never enough. It’s not the goals it’s just he never has enough getting better.”
Stamkos was pleased St. Louis had a part in the goal.
“I couldn’t have written a better script. Marty’s a huge reason why I’ve had the successes that I’ve had in the NHL in my first four years. Two years ago when i scored 50 he wasn’t able to get an assist. This year he did and on 60 again.
“He’s the best playmaker in the game right now. I’m so fortunate to play with him, I’m so happy he was able to share that moment.”