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Tampa Bay Lightning's Steve Stamkos evolving as a scorer

SUNRISE — For Lightning center Steven Stamkos, Friday's victory over the Blackhawks "seemed like old times."

The one-timer from the left faceoff circle with which he scored on a power play is now such a small part of his repertoire, ripping one as he did made him smile, even in retrospect.

"It was fun to get that," he said Saturday.

The goal capped Stamkos' second-period hat trick, an offensive explosion that extended a three-week hot streak that has re-established him as one of the league's elite scorers.

Stamkos, who had just five goals in last season's final 28 games — prompting a slew of "what's wrong with him?" stories — has eight goals and 10 points in his past eight games.

His nine goals entered Saturday tied for second in the league, one behind Toronto's Phil Kessel.

More important, though, is how Stamkos has been scoring. His three goals before the one-timer came on a deflection, off a rebound and on a conversion of a pass, all in front of the net.

"I'm so proud of him right now," coach Guy Boucher said. "He's not dangling. He's using his speed to charge through opponents. He's using his scrambling skills around the net."

"It's just the evolution of finding different ways to score," Stamkos said. "Physically, I just feel stronger. I feel like I'm winning a lot more battles and sustaining pressure by utilizing my speed and strength.

"It might not be fun at the time, battling in front of the net. But there's nothing more fun than scoring goals."

The circumstances could not be more different from last season, when Boucher said Stamkos was too much on the outside, trying to find "one-in-a-million holes" through which to use his devastating shot.

Though frustrating, Boucher said, it ultimately was good for Stamkos' development.

"People think you need success to learn," Boucher said. "I think the opposite. You need to go down to figure out why you had success. He figured it out."

Now, Boucher said, "I don't see a ceiling for this guy."

Stamkos, 21, figured out opponents will not give him the one-timer — the shot that made him famous — with regularity. He had to find alternatives.

Stamkos also has become one of the most precise practitioners of Tampa Bay's system, which includes lots of defensive responsibilities, even for scoring stars.

"Even when he doesn't score, he's trying to do so much for the team," defenseman Pavel Kubina said. "He back-checks; he plays good defensively. It's fun to watch him play."

"That's the kind of individual he is," left wing Marty St. Louis said. "He's not just about himself. He's playing within the team."

And being rewarded with what Boucher called "a consistency in his game that is something special."

Stamkos has a league-best 105 goals the past two-plus seasons. He wouldn't mind adding a few more today against the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center as Tampa Bay tries to start reversing a 2-4-2 road record.

"At the end of the day, you always want more goals," he said.

Whether they come with a deflection or a one-timer.

MOVED: Right wing Mattias Ritola was sent to AHL Norfolk.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steve Stamkos evolving as a scorer 11/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 5, 2011 11:01pm]

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