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Surging Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos finding his groove

TAMPA — Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos is going to be a "great, great player," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said.

Not just because of his skill but because of how he kept his head through the preseason publicity hype and how the expectations intensified the criticism after Stamkos' slow start.

"I think that is part, and maybe an important part, of what he has to go through," Maurice said Saturday. "You might be able to look back and say there was more pressure than was needed, but at the end of the day, this man is a high-pressure man. It's in the memory bank now. He's gone through it.

"Sometimes it makes you feel better if you insulate a young player, but at the same time, he's going to get used to it."

Stamkos, 19, had eight goals in his previous 11 games and entered Saturday seventh among rookies with 31 points on 14 goals and 17 assists in 62 games.

It truly has been a tale of two seasons.

The center had three goals, 12 points and was minus-12 in his first 31 games; 11 goals, 19 points and was plus-4 in his next 31.

He had an assist and was minus-3 on Saturday against Carolina in Game 63.

"It just boils down to confidence," Stamkos said before the game. "I don't feel that urgency to force plays like I did at the beginning. I know the coaching staff has confidence in me. I know my teammates do. But, most importantly, I have confidence in myself. I'm taking the time to make the right play."

As for the preseason hype, Stamkos said, "I really didn't pay any attention to that stuff. Being first in the OHL (draft) kind of prepared me for expectations and pressure.

"The hardest part was living up to my expectations at the beginning of the year. It was tough to handle that a little bit. … I still had to find a way and didn't, and that's my own fault. I learned through that whole process. It was a little bit of an eye-opener of how hard you have to work. I'm learning that now, better late than never."

No Tocchet contract … yet: A report on Canada's TSN Web site that said interim coach Rick Tocchet was close to signing a three-year deal is "premature," GM Brian Lawton said.

"I've said I'll deal with it at the end of the year," he said, but added, "I don't think you would be erroneous to say I may accelerate that, but we haven't gotten that far. … I like what he's doing, but he hasn't signed a contract or anything like that."

Said Tocchet: "We'll move forward on it."

Segal sent down: W Brandon Segal was returned to AHL Norfolk because LW Ryan Malone (flu) played Saturday. Segal, called up and sent down twice last week, was up on an emergency basis tied to Malone's condition.

Odds and ends: RW Vinny Prospal got his 400th NHL assist. … Tampa Bay has used 46 players, nine more than any other team and seven from the 1999-2000 franchise record. … F Paul Szczechura (wrist) played after missing one game. … D Marek Malik (ankle) was scratched. … Hurricanes and former Tampa Bay F Jussi Jokinen is attending his father's funeral.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at

Surging Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos finding his groove 03/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 11:13pm]
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