TAMPA — These are the liberties one can take with a friend:
Lightning wing Marty St. Louis, when asked his reaction to Steven Stamkos scoring his league-best 40th goal Saturday night, looked at his teammate and said with a shrug of indifference, "He should have that many goals with his shot."
Seriously, though, St. Louis said, laughing, "It's great. We're just so used to it."
Stamkos added another chapter in a 2-1 victory over the Capitals at the Tampa Bay Times Forum as the center's breakaway goal 1:50 into the second period was the winner.
But the goal that gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead also was historic as Stamkos, 22, became the first Lightning player with three 40-goal seasons. He also became the fifth NHL player with three such seasons before age 23 with Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk and Alex Ovechkin.
"It's surreal being mentioned with those guys," Stamkos said. "I'm just trying to do everything I can to help this team win every night."
He didn't do it alone. Tom Pyatt's goal 2:10 into the game made it 1-0. The team blocked 23 shots with defenseman Brett Clark getting five, and Mathieu Garon made 23 saves, including a terrific blocker stop on Dennis Wideman's slap shot through a screen with four seconds left.
It was the second straight win for Tampa Bay (26-26-6), which kept its smoldering playoff hopes alive by moving to 11th in the East, six points out of the eighth and final postseason spot.
"I feel that's our trademark: fight, fight, fight," coach Guy Boucher said. "If you can dream it, you can do it."
What Boucher wanted his players to do was "isolate" the game; "nothing before, nothing after," he said.
The team also had to control emotions playing for a second straight day on which a teammate was traded — Thursday Dominic Moore and Saturday Pavel Kubina.
"We could have easily folded the tent and said, 'Okay, we're just going to think about next year,' " Stamkos said. "But just because there's a couple of trades we're not going to stop playing. We responded with two big wins and we have to keep going."
Stamkos was going the moment he intercepted Matt Hendricks' cross-ice pass at the Lightning blue line, and deked goalie Tomas Vokoun to score on his forehand.
"Steven was terrific on that," Boucher said. "We asked the players to be tighter on the other team. That's what he did. He was extremely fast and tight and he created that winning goal."
"It's nice," Stamkos said of his 40th. "You set some personal goals throughout the season. It's nice to hit that in a big win."
First—1, Tampa Bay, Pyatt 6 (Purcell), 2:10. Penalties—Clark, TB (interference), 4:04; Lecavalier, TB (hooking), 13:17; Laich, Was (interference), 14:44.
Second—2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 40, 1:50. 3, Washington, Laich 11 (Perreault, Semin), 9:31. Penalties—Green, Was (tripping), 16:24; Washington bench, served by Perreault (too many men), 18:16.
Third—None. Penalties—Semin, Was (high-sticking), 10:02; Johansson, Was (slashing), 16:41. Shots—Washington 8-8-8—24. Tampa Bay 10-11-2—23. Power plays—Washington 0 of 2; Tampa Bay 0 of 5. Goalies—Washington, Vokoun 23-14-2 (23 shots-21 saves). Tampa Bay, Garon 18-15-4 (24-23). A—19,204 (19,204). T—2:27. Referees—Gord Dwyer, Dave Jackson. Linesmen—Jonny Murray, Jay Sharrers.