TAMPA — Thank goodness, Steven Stamkos said, for his helmet.
The Lightning center needed it Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum as he scored his league-best 40th goal in Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime victory over the Blues.
As Stamkos popped in a rebound of Brett Clark's shot in the first period, Clark, hit from behind, slid into Stamkos' legs. Stamkos flew backward and smacked his head so hard on the ice his helmet was knocked askew.
"Just a little shaken up," he said. "The helmet was on pretty tight and took the brunt of the fall. … I'll trade that for a goal any day."
"It just helps," coach Guy Boucher said, "with the waking-up process."
Considering how it sleep-walked through Friday's loss to the Capitals, the Lightning (33-16-5) needed a wake-up call.
Vinny Lecavalier's power-play goal with 6.7 seconds left in the extra period was the winner. Dominic Moore and Steve Downie also scored, and Marty St. Louis and Marc-Andre Bergeron, in his first game after his callup from AHL Norfolk, had two assists each.
But it was Stamkos, who turns 21 today, with three assists, four points, five shots on goal and three hits, who was the catalyst.
"He played great," said Lecavalier, whose ninth goal was his first in eight games. "He was skating, hitting, shooting, driving the net, making good plays. We needed leadership like that to step up."
Especially after the Washington debacle, which Stamkos called one of his worst games this season.
"I knew I had to come out and try to prove to myself you want to help the team win," said Stamkos, who has a league-high 72 points, "especially in these big games."
"He came here on a mission," Boucher said. "That's another proof of this kid's character. He was flying, demanding the puck and really driving the boat. By far, this is his best game of the year. This is his biggest leap in terms of leadership and pulling the boat."
Not everything was peachy for the Southeast-leading Lightning. The power play, for the most part, was dreadful, and when Nikita Nikitin beat goaltender Dan Ellis on a 61-foot shot in the second period, the Blues led 3-2.
But Downie scored 30 seconds later off Stamkos' pass. And Stamkos began the sequence that led to Lecavalier's goal on a backhander off a rebound of Bergeron's shot.
Just as important, Stamkos shook off Clark's unintentional hit.
"When you see him get up, it's a relief," Clark said. "He's a great player."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 40 (Clark, St. Louis), 18:43. Penalties—Gagne, TB (holding), 5:05; Hall, TB (delay of game), 7:18; Crombeen, StL (high-sticking), 9:52; Backes, StL (hooking), 11:16.
Second Period—2, St. Louis, Berglund 12 (Steen, Oshie), :30. 3, Tampa Bay, Moore 9 (Stamkos, Bergeron), 2:33. 4, St. Louis, Backes 17 (Steen, D'Agostini), 11:05 (pp). 5, St. Louis, Nikitin 1 (McClement), 13:09. 6, Tampa Bay, Downie 6 (Stamkos, St. Louis), 13:39. Penalties—Hedman, TB (hooking), 10:10; Ohlund, TB (delay of game), 10:24.
Third Period—None. Penalties—McDonald, StL (slashing), :11; Sobotka, StL (hooking), 10:39.
Overtime—7, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 9 (Bergeron, Stamkos), 4:53 (pp). Penalties—Brewer, StL (holding), 3:40. Shots on Goal—St. Louis 9-16-6-1—32. Tampa Bay 13-12-6-9—40. Power-play opportunities—St. Louis 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 1 of 5. Goalies—St. Louis, Conklin 6-4-3 (40 shots-36 saves). Tampa Bay, Ellis 13-7-5 (32-29). A—14,896 (19,758). T—2:32.