TAMPA — Steven Stamkos built a career on the strength of his shot.
He’s known for his blazing one-timer, particularly from the left faceoff circle. On the team’s Twitter account, it’s referred to as “Stamkos™” by Lightning social media manager Kinsey Janke.
That trademark shot have been a proper way to the franchise goal record. But Stamkos and Tampa Bay was happy to settle for fitting Monday when he scored career goal No. 384 the same way he scored No. 1.
Stamkos passed Vinny Lecavalier as Tampa Bay’s career goal leader with a redux of his first goal, scored 3,791 days prior, just nine games into his rookie season.
Back on Oct. 30, 2008, when the Lightning was as struggling franchise with its hopes pinned on an 18-year-old No. 1 pick, Stamkos tipped Lecavalier’s shot past then-Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Planted at the top of the crease, Stamkos twisted his upper body, to get his backhand on the puck coming in on his left. Those who watched in real time could barely see the tip.
On March 18, 2019, it was Ryan McDonagh’s shot Stamkos that tipped past Darcy Kuemper to make Tampa Bay hockey history.
“When you’ve got 384, there’s going to be a lot of different ways,” Stamkos said after Tampa Bay’s 4-1 victory over Arizona.
Unlike Stamkos’ first goal, there was no missing this tip.
The record-breaker, which came 111 seconds after the Lighting fell behind 1-0 an Arizona team that dealt the Lightning perhaps its worst loss of the season, stands as a testament to Stamkos’ growth as a player. Anticipating where the puck was going two passes ahead, Stamkos beat Coyote defender Mario Kempe to a spot in the crease as J.T. Miller’s pass found a wide-open McDonagh. With Stamkos holding his ground against Kempe, McDonagh flipped a wrist shot that Stamkos redirected.
He looked over his shoulder and watched the puck sail over Kuemper’s glove into the net, the Lightning’s first score on its way to a 4-1 victory.
“Maybe not his signature goal, so to speak, he’s known for his big shot,” McDonagh said. “But I know him. He’ll take it no matter what. And it was a big goal in the game to get us rolling.”
The goal horn sounded, tesla coil buzzed, lights flashed and “Hammer Time” blared from the rafters.
As McDonagh went to scoop up the puck, Stamkos celebrated like it was 2008 – throwing up both arms and skating into a teammate’s arms (Lecavalier in 2008, Miller and Ondřej Palát on Monday). He led the line back to the bench for the fist pump line, as per usual after a goal, but then got a couple of extra hugs before he got on the bench. Even coach Jon Cooper leaned down to share his congratulations.
But this one came at home in a victory that clinched home-ice advantage through the playoffs and the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL team with the most points. That made it even more special. Stamkos, who specified he’s not usually emotional, said he felt the strength of support at Amalie Arena. He may have 384 goals, but only two have made him emotional: the final of his 60-goal season in Winnipeg and the love from Bolts Nation on Monday.
The crowd cheered for a goal by the face of a franchise as usual. Then as a graphic flashed on the screen with Stamkos’ record, the crowd stood. Stamkos gave a small wave from the bench. The applause continued until the TV timeout 30 seconds later later.
The Lightning played a tribute video, including highlights of Stamkos’ many goals. Then the ovation grew even further. Stamkos, who joked he saw flashbacks of his hair and beard styles over the years, skated a small loop off the bench, saluting the crowd.
In between goals No. 1 and 384, Stamkos has had a 50-goal season and the second 60-goal season of this century. He’s declined the lure of playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs to make a new home in Tampa Bay. He’s seen his and the Lightning’s promise and potential thrown into doubt when Stamkos broke his leg in 2013, had a blood clot near his collarbone during the 2016 postseason and tore his meniscus at the start of the next season. Stamkos has been to the Stanley Cup Finals and captained teams that fell agonizingly short.
Now, he’s the Lightning’s career goal leader and captain of that almost seems unstoppable.
“I’ve been here a long time. That’s what that means,” Stamkos said of the goal record. “Like I said, hopefully a lot more to come.”
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at [email protected]. Follow @dianacnearhos