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Steven Stamkos' quest for 50 goals keeps interest in Tampa Bay Lightning season

Steven Stamkos, center, celebrates with Kurtis Foster, left, and Steve Downie after scoring against the Penguins last week.

Associated Press

Steven Stamkos, center, celebrates with Kurtis Foster, left, and Steve Downie after scoring against the Penguins last week.

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos said he would trade a 50-goal season for the playoffs in a minute.

But with the Lightning out of the postseason for the third straight year, and the center with 46 goals, his pursuit of the milestone achieved by just 87 NHL players will keep a national spotlight on the team's final four games, beginning tonight against the Hurricanes at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"It's something I'd like to do," Stamkos said Monday. "It's a pretty big accomplishment. It's going to be tough, four (goals) in four (games), but I'm going to try to shoot for it."

There is more to Stamkos' pursuit. At 20, he would be the third youngest player to reach 50 goals behind Wayne Gretzky, 19 years, 2 months in 1979-80 with the Oilers, and Jimmy Carson, 19 years, 8 months in 1987-88 with the Kings.

Stamkos' 46 goals are tied for second in the league with Washington's Alex Ovechkin, one behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. If Stamkos claims the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer, he would be the youngest since Columbus' Rick Nash (19 years, 10 months) in 2003-04, when he tied Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk with 41.

But hitting 50 is the glamor shot.

"It's a pretty special thing," said teammate Vinny Lecavalier, who scored 52 to win the Richard Trophy in 2006-07. "Especially when you're close. It's exciting, and he's in a situation where he can do it. He's got the speed and he's got the shot to beat any goalie."

Funny, while Stamkos talked about trying not to think about it, Lecavalier advised otherwise.

"Actually, keep it in your mind," he said. "It's definitely an extra motivation for a game. It makes you focus even more on shooting the puck. The more he shoots, the more chances he'll get to score."

Not that getting shots will be easy.

Stamkos had three Friday against the Rangers but missed the net on five and had one blocked thanks, in part, to blanket coverage, especially on the power play.

Stamkos has a league-best 21 power-play goals, most from the right faceoff circle from where he launches a lethal one-timer.

"Even on the five-on-three, they had a guy right there," Stamkos said of the Rangers.

"That's why other parts of our game have to execute," coach Rick Tocchet said. "When you have six or seven guys not playing hard enough, it's easier to cover Stammer or Marty (St. Louis) or whomever."

Speaking of St. Louis, he said he will try to feed Stamkos the puck at every opportunity.

"I've been trying to concentrate on that for a while," Stamkos' left wing said. "I'd love it if a guy I played with scored 50 goals. A big part of my game is playmaking, so I love if guys I play with score. I take pride in that."

But Stamkos said, "I don't want him always looking for me. If you get a chance, shoot it. Don't force anything. Whatever happens, happens."

What will happen?

"I don't want to jinx him," line mate Steve Downie said, "but he won't give up."

"You want to score as many goals as you can to help your team win," Stamkos said. "But at the end of the day, I'd much rather be in the playoff. That's where you want to be."

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: Stamkos and Downie could play for Team Canada in the world championship May 7-23 in Germany. Both met Friday with general manager Mark Messier.

St. Louis said he declined an invitation to play.

"I'd like to head over and try to bring home a gold," Stamkos said.

Steven Stamkos' quest for 50 goals keeps interest in Tampa Bay Lightning season 04/05/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 5, 2010 10:55pm]
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