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Martin Fennelly Columns

Stamkos' stick, shoulders carry Bolts' burden

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 04:38 PM
TAMPA -

Last Saturday in Carolina, the Lightning were dead, down two goals near the end of the second period. Then Steven Stamkos said no they weren't. He picked up the puck in his zone, swooped down ice, fired a wrist shot home, unassisted — and there was life. Later, Stamkos won it in overtime, off a pass from linemate Teddy Purcell.

"It was a great pass. It's about wanting the pass sometimes, wanting it to come to you," Stamkos said.

It's coming to No. 91. When it isn't, he is going to get it. He has helped the Bolts rally late in this season, though Tuesday they lost to Ottawa at the Forum. And goaltender Mathieu Garon was injured early and left the game. There might be even more on Stamkos' stick and shoulders this morning. He won't shy away.

"He's hungry and he wants to be the guy," Marty St. Louis said Tuesday morning.

Oh, is the kid hungry. He scored his 48th goal Tuesday night. He is tied for the league scoring lead and has 11 goals and 19 points in his past 11 games. His 48 goals are 10 more than anyone else.

He is 22 years, 30 days old.

I'm not sure even Lightning fans completely understand what Stamkos is doing. With two more goals, he'll become just the sixth player in NHL history to have two 50-goal seasons by age 23. Here are the others: Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alex Ovechkin.

Steven Stamkos is 22 years, 30 days old.

It's more than that blinding speed or that thundering shot. There's growing leadership, there's a charge-through attitude. Stamkos is tied for the league lead with 10 game-winning goals, four in overtime.

New York Islanders Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin, now an Ottawa broadcaster, says Stamkos would have been a handful for him or anyone else.

"If I'm playing against him, he's screwing me up, because he changes, he gets better, he gets stronger," Potvin said. "He was a 50-goal scorer two years ago, but he's going to score 50 goals differently this time. Why couldn't they stop Mike Bossy? He scored 50 goals nine years in a row, because Boss didn't always do the same thing."

Consider that when Stamkos scored 51 goals two seasons ago, 24 came on power plays. This season, only 10 have come off a man advantage. He's overpowering even at even strength, he's more than finesse, he's finding space when there isn't as much, he's in at the net, he's paying prices in front, between the faceoff dots.

Stamkos seemed a sure bet to get 50 goals last season but went into a prolonged slump the last two months of the season, and didn't light many lamps despite the Lightning's playoff run. But he learned a lot about himself, about managing frustrations, about concentrating on the other end when the goals didn't come — on charging through.

"It was finding a way to be a winner," Stamkos said. "That's what I learned last year."

And at the end of games, when the Lightning have the lead, but it's tight, Stamkos is out there for defense, something you would have never seen last season.

Did we mention he plays offense, too?

"This kid here is too smart," Potvin said. "I know him a little. I've talked to his dad. Just watching him play, he's too smart and he wants it too much for you to be able to stop him for too long. Look at the way he's coming at the net, different angles, he's behind the net making plays, he's always looking for that open ice, he's everywhere, not one place.

"I see the great ones, saw them, and what makes them great is you're never sure what they're going to do. What the hell is he going to do to me this time?"

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