Steven Stamkos can rest easy after getting 50th goal

Steven Stamkos, sending the puck toward Bruins goalie Marty Turco for his 50th goal of the season, is on pace for 59 goals.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos, sending the puck toward Bruins goalie Marty Turco for his 50th goal of the season, is on pace for 59 goals.

Fast company

Steven Stamkos on Tuesday became the sixth player to score 50 goals in a season twice before age 23. The six and their age at the end of their second 50-goal season:

Player, age First 50-goal season Second
Steven Stamkos (22) 51 (2009-10) 50* (2011-12)
Alex Ovechkin (23) 52 (2005-06) 65 (2007-08)
Joe Nieuwendyk (22) 51 (1987-88) 51 (1988-89)
Mario Lemieux (22) 54 (1986-87) 70 (1987-88)
Wayne Gretzky (20) 51 (1979-80) 55 (1980-81)
Mike Bossy (22) 53 (1977-78) 69 (1978-79)

* With 13 games left

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos' game-day naps had not been so restful the last little while.

The Lightning's star center was thinking about 50 goals, and as the milestone got closer, the naps got shorter. So it was with as much relief as joy for Stamkos that his two goals in Tuesday's 6-1 victory over the Bruins pushed him to the mark for the second time in his four-year career.

"It's nice to get this over with," Stamkos said. "It's going to take a little bit of the pressure off."

For a moment, perhaps. The truth is, as Stamkos continues to produce goals at a prodigious pace, even more will be expected.

Consider that his 146 goals since 2009-10 — when he tied Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the league lead with 51 — are 35 more than any other player. His 50 goals this season are 12 more.

And at 22 years old, Stamkos stands among some of the giants of the game as one of six players — the others are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Joe Nieuwendyk and Alex Ovechkin — with two 50-goal seasons before turning 23.

"A phenomenal feat," Lightning founder and Hall of Fame player Phil Esposito said. "To be in the same category as those guys is absolutely outstanding."

How good can Stamkos be?

"We don't know," Lightning teammate Ryan Malone said. "He still feels like he's improving, and every year in this league you learn something new. We'll see."

Coach Guy Boucher's favorite Stamkos moment Tuesday had nothing to do with scoring goals and everything to do with how the center handles himself within the team.

It was the third period, Stamkos had his 50th, and Tampa Bay was up 6-1. Instead of lobbying to get on the ice to try for a hat trick, Stamkos, who had averaged 25:21 of ice time his previous six games, was happy to stay on the bench, playing one four-second shift in the final 8:17.

"He wanted the other guys to get more ice time," Boucher said. "That's the kind of player he is."

"Once I got it," Stamkos said of his 50th goal, "we said, 'Let's get some other guys out there.' I just didn't want to force anything. If (a hat trick) was going to happen, it was going to happen. We were up a couple of goals, so it was nice to rest for a bit."

With 13 games remaining, starting tonight against Toronto at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Stamkos is on pace for 59 goals. That not only would shatter Vinny Lecavalier's team-record 52 set in 2006-07, it would be a 31 percent increase over the 45 goals Stamkos had last season.

As noteworthy is how Stamkos is scoring. Of his 50 goals, only 10 have come on the power play; his 40 even-strength goals are 12 more than any other player. That's quite a difference from 2009-10, when 24 of his 51 goals were with the extra man.

"This year you see how he adjusted from his left circle one-timer," Malone said. "You can probably count on one hand how many goals he has from there. He has the knack to find that space and anticipate where the puck is going to be. That's something you can't teach."

Said Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman: "He really is thinking, 'Where can I go to be open?' " He doesn't let things happen on their own. He makes them happen, and he drives to the net. Nothing stops him from getting to the net."

That said, it's not going to get easier for Stamkos, who already faces opponents' top defensemen and best checkers, not to mention those growing expectations.

"It comes with the territory," he said. "I put the most pressure on myself, so no matter what anybody else says, they're not going to meet what I expect of myself, so that's how I'm able to deal with that."

Better naps won't hurt, either.

streak extended: Norfolk won its 16th straight, 4-1 over visiting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, to pull within one of the AHL season winning-streak record.

Steven Stamkos can rest easy after getting 50th goal 03/14/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 15, 2012 12:07am]

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