BUFFALO, N.Y. — In a sense, Steven Stamkos' quest for his first NHL goal was as important to his teammates as it was to the Lightning's rookie center.
And not just because Stamkos is supposed to be a player who transforms a lineup, but because last summer's No. 1 draft choice already is so much part of the team.
"He's such an infectious kid," goaltender Olaf Kolzig said. "He's a happy-go-lucky kid. He's smiling all the time. He's great to be around."
No surprise, then, that when Stamkos scored twice in Thursday's 5-2 victory over the Sabres at HSBC Arena, the on-ice celebration looked like a displaced mosh pit.
"A dream come true for me," said Stamkos, who, with an assist, had three points. "What a great feeling."
It was the second straight victory for Tampa Bay (3-3-3), both coming on the road, and with a season-best in goals. Its three first-period goals were as many as the team had scored in a game.
Jussi Jokinen scored his second goal in as many games. Ryan Malone and Paul Ranger also scored, and defenseman Andrej Meszaros was plus-3.
Kolzig, in his first start since Oct. 16, made 29 saves as Tampa Bay, with a season high in shots, outshot the Northeast Division leaders 40-31. With nine points, it also moved to third in the Southeast.
"We're skating. We're first on the puck. We're aggressive," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "We scored five. I thought we could have had more."
Not only that, coach Barry Melrose said, "we looked as quick as Buffalo, and Buffalo is one of the fastest teams in the NHL."
And Stamkos, who had 13:47 of ice time, was plus-2 and had four shots, looked as comfortable as he has all season.
Part of that, he said, was Tuesday's assist in Toronto, his hometown.
"That was huge," Stamkos said of his first NHL point. "It got the monkey off my back. I was able to go out there and just play my game. I was confident with the puck and confident in my teammates."
Right back at you, said Stamkos' teammates, who watched the 18-year-old handle the swarming Toronto media, which wanted to know why he had yet to score a point.
"When the going got tough, he never ducked questions," Melrose said. "He always said the right thing. 'I'm working hard, and the goals will come.' ''
His first, on a first-period power play, was a deflection of Lecavalier's one-timer and the result of being in front of the net, where he consistently has been since being put on the first power-play unit.
The goal first was credited to Lecavalier, who immediately asked the official scorer for a review.
His second-period goal was a laser from the right-wing boards that cleanly beat unscreened goalie Ryan Miller on the short side.
"A heck of a shot," wing Mark Recchi said. "He's a goal scorer. He hit the perfect spot and beat a great goaltender."
"He played unbelievable," Lecavalier said.
One blip: Stamkos' inability to get on the ice in the game's final three minutes for a chance at a hat trick despite a power-play opportunity.
Melrose said the referees would not let him substitute during a TV timeout. And when the Lightning was called for too many men on the ice with 1:52 left, Stamkos, who doesn't kill penalties, was in the penalty box.
No problem, Melrose said, "He'll have to get a hat trick the next game."
Imagine the celebration then.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8622. View his blog at lightning.sptimes.com.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 1 (Lecavalier, St. Louis), 9:51 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Jokinen 2 (Artyukhin, Recchi), 10:30. 3, Buffalo, MacArthur 5 (Paille, Spacek), 11:12. 4, Tampa Bay, Malone 2 (Stamkos), 19:34. Penalties—Kotalik, Buf (tripping), 8:26; Weber, Buf (holding), 12:47; Prospal, TB (holding stick), 15:56.
Second Period—5, Tampa Bay, Ranger 1 (Gratton, Lecavalier), 13:10. 6, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 2 (Hall), 15:00. 7, Buffalo, Vanek 9 (Sekera, Spacek), 19:40 (pp). Penalties—Pettinger, TB (hooking), 5:14; Lecavalier, TB (tripping), 10:53; Carle, TB (hooking), 18:52.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (holding stick), 12:24; Numminen, Buf (hooking), 12:24; Mair, Buf (boarding), 16:53; Tampa Bay bench, served by Stamkos (too many men), 18:08. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 15-14-11—40. Buffalo 8-14-9—31. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 3; Buffalo 1 of 5. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Kolzig 1-1-1 (31 shots-29 saves). Buffalo, Miller 5-1-1 (40-35). A—18,690 (18,690).