TAMPA Steven Stamkos cut toward the slot and lined up what looked like the perfect-looking shot in search of setting history. What he found, instead, was the game-winning play.
Already with two goals under his belt and needing one more to set a franchise single-season record, Stamkos dropped a pass to Tim Wallace, who buried a wrist shot late in the third period for the game-winner against his former team as the Lightning rallied to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 on Saturday.
With consecutive victories, Tampa Bay has won two in a row for the first time since a four-game winning streak Feb. 26-March 3 and closed out a disappointing season-long, homestand at 3-4 with a pair of late third-period tallies to erase a one-goal deficit. Dwayne Roloson made 34 saves to win consecutive starts for the first time since Nov. 6-9.
And as much as the Lightning seem to have their game somewhat back on track following a 1-5-1 stretch, Stamkos has returned to familiar territory on the scoresheet. After a season-long stretch of four games without a point – all since reaching the 50-goal mark – the 22-year-old wound up scoring twice and added an assist for his 24th multi-point game of the season and 11th multi-goal game of the year.
It's for reasons like that a four-game scoring drought is referred to as a slump.
"When you don't score for four games and it's a slump, it's because you are a pretty good hockey player,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said.
With Evgeni Malkin – who was scoreless on Saturday – making a late-season charge to creep within five goals of Stamkos for the Rocket Richard Trophy going into the day, Stamkos emphatically reclaimed his scoring touch and his stake at his second Richard Trophy by scoring in the versatile manner of which he has become known for the past two seasons.
He opened the scoring by whacking in a backhander at the top of the crease through the legs of Islanders goaltender Al Montoya at 15:49 of the first. He then found an open spot between the circles to fire home a laser one-timer off a feed from Marty St. Louis 1:46 into the second period to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.
"Our defensive coverage on Stamkos on the second goal wasn't bad. We were right there, but the kid can release it like nobody else in the league,'' New York defenseman Steve Staios said.
With 52 goals on the season, Stamkos set a career high while tying the franchise record for most in a season set by Vinny Lecavalier in 2006-07.
But after the Islanders rallied for three goals – including a Kyle Okposo goal with 35.6 seconds left in the second and another by Matt Moulson 43 seconds into the third for a 3-2 lead – Tom Pyatt pulled Tampa Bay even again 9:08 into the third with his third goal in two games.
Then Stamkos took a pass from Pierre-Cedric Labrie through the middle of the ice and carried in toward the right circle. But instead of firing a shot looking for the hat trick, Stamkos left a drop pass for Wallace – picked up on waivers from the Islanders on Feb. 22 – who scored his third goal since joining Tampa Bay.
"I just tried to use my speed to push the defenseman back and made a bit of a move to the outside and he stayed with me,'' Stamkos said. "I saw (Wallace) behind me and he was able to get there. He's a right-handed shot and he was able to get the shot off and obviously it was a great game-winner for us.''
With eight games left in the season, Stamkos still has enough opportunities to chase the franchise goals record and his teammates no doubt have his back in the quest to have the record all to himself.
"I think everyone in this locker room is excited for him and wish him all the best in getting the maximum number that he can get,''' Roloson said.