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Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Stamkos reaches rarified air as goal scorer

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:06 PM
TAMPA -

Hockey's magic barrier isn't breached very often.

In the past five years, the 50-goal mark has been reached a total of 10 times by seven players. When Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the night Tuesday against Boston, it marked the 11th time in six seasons a player reached 50 goals, with only three accomplishing the feat more than once: Alex Ovechkin (three times), Dany Heatley (twice) and now Stamkos, who has done so twice in the past three seasons.

With 13 games left this season, including tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, pushing past the 60-goal mark is not out of the question for the ultra-talented, 22-year-old who grew up in the suburbs of Toronto. The 60-goal mark, reached routinely from the 1970s through the mid-90s, has been reached only once since Mario Lemieux scored 69 goals in 1995-96: when Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08.

Stamkos put his name in the record book by becoming the third-youngest player in league history to score 50 goals in a season when he scored 51 in 2009-10. He is just the sixth player in NHL history to record multiple 50-goal campaigns before his 23{+r}{+d} birthday, an exclusive club that includes Wayne Gretzky, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Bossy, Ovechkin and Lemieux.

Four of those players are already in the Hall of Fame.

"It's pretty surreal,'' Stamkos said of being in such exclusive company.

In only his fourth season, and just past his 22{+n}{+d} birthday in February, the ceiling for his career seems limitless. His game has evolved and continues to trend upward.

Entering Wednesday, Stamkos had a 12-goal lead on second-place Evgeni Malkin in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, given to the league's top goal scorer. Last season, he had a large lead after scoring his 40th goal on Super Bowl Sunday in early February, but slumped down the stretch. Anaheim's Corey Perry was the only player to reach the 50-goal mark last season.

Of Stamkos' 50 goals this season, only 10 have come on the power play, meaning 80 percent have come at even strength. Last season, 28 of 45 were scored at even strength (62 percent). In 2009-10, 27 of 51 were at even strength (52.9 percent).

"Obviously we are very impressed, but what is more impressive is the work ethic and his determination," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "He's driven to be better. He just continues to work hard in the off-season, in games and practices. His overall game, not just his scoring, but he's getting better in all areas.

"So, he's a great example for our guys, a great leader and he's obviously a great player. We are lucky to have him.''

And the surface has only been scratched.

"He's going to have a long career and he's just going to continue to get better and better,'' said Yzerman, a Hall of Fame player with Detroit. "I don't want to put any (extra pressure), I just want him to keep doing his thing here, but he's been the best player at every level he's played at, and he's becoming one of the best players in the league.

"He should be a Hart Trophy candidate (as MVP) and he'll just keep going because he's driven."

Even with everything Stamkos has already accomplished, he continues to mature and grow.

"Right now we are looking at goals and statistics, but it's about championships. And he's after that,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "That's why I think he is the package deal. He's in tremendous shape. He takes care of himself. He's a tremendous individual off the ice, very unselfish on and off the ice. He's a guy that drives for more and doesn't wait for things to come to him.''

TONIGHT'S GAME

WHO: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning

WHERE/WHEN:  Forum, Tampa/7:30 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Sun Sports/970 AM

INJURIES: Lightning — D Mattias Ohlund (knee), RW Dana Tyrell (knee), D Marc-Andre Bergeron (back), C Vinny Lecavalier (broken hand), G Mathieu Garon (groin), out; D Bruno Gervais (upper body), questionable. Maple Leafs — LW Joffrey Lupul (shoulder), D Mike Brown (leg), out.

ALL-TIME SERIES: Tampa Bay is 23-37-7, including 11-19-3 at home.

NEED TO KNOW: This is the third of four meetings this season; Toronto won the first two by a combined 14-4 score. … C Steven Stamkos has seven goals and 18 points in 14 career games against Toronto. … The Leafs are 2-13-2 in the past 17 games and 1-4-1 under new coach Randy Carlyle. … LW Ryan Malone has three goals and four assists during a seven-game scoring streak. … Toronto entered Wednesday ranked 29th in penalty kill (76.9 percent). … RW Marty St. Louis has not scored a goal since registering a hat trick at New Jersey on Feb. 26. … Tampa Bay ranks last in goals allowed a game (3.35) while Toronto is 28th (3.04). … Tonight’s game is sold out, but standing-room-only tickets will go on sale at noon inside the newly renovated box office.


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835

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