Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos has one game left to hit 60 goals

WINNIPEG — You know something is a big deal if Marty St. Louis won't talk about it.

The Lightning right wing is superstitious that way — no need to jinx anything — so when asked what it would mean for teammate Steven Stamkos to reach 60 goals, the conversation was over.

"I'm not going to talk about this," St. Louis said. "I'm not. What's worth talking about?"

Just that with one goal in tonight's season finale against the Jets, Stamkos will reach a historic milestone that in an age of larger goalie pads, better scouting and stifling defensive systems is on the endangered list.

Not that it ever has been common; 19 NHL players — including Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Phil Esposito, Mike Bossy and Brett Hull — have combined for 38 60-goal seasons. Stamkos, though, would be only the second player in 15 seasons to do it and the first since Washington's Alex Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08.

"It's big, a milestone in the NHL," defenseman Bruno Gervais said. "It's something we're pulling for. We're going to work even harder next game to get him that last goal."

Stamkos has asked teammates not to change their games to force-feed him the puck. But Gervais, who assisted on Stamkos' 59th goal Thursday at Toronto, basically said, "Yeah, right."

"We're human beings," he said. "And we're a team. He's been so great for the team, it's something you look for, for sure."

If Stamkos is nervous, anxious or feeling pressure to join the exclusive club, he is not showing it. He has even downplayed the milestone, saying it would mean more to him if Tampa Bay was in the playoffs. "I just have to play my game and not force things," he said. "It's tough. You do think about it when you're out there, but you just try to keep the same game plan you have through the first 81 games that has obviously worked. I'm not pressing it."

Neither is Stamkos' dad, Chris, who made the drive from the family's Unionville home to watch Thursday's game in nearby Toronto, but said he would not be in Winnipeg.

"If it happens, it happens," he said of his son reaching 60 goals.

If it doesn't? "It won't diminish his season."

Exactly the point coach Guy Boucher has tried to make. "The media, it's the 60 goals. The fans, it's the 60 goals. He doesn't care," Boucher said of Stamkos. "He really doesn't. He's an unselfish guy. He never cares about the numbers. That's one of his great qualities. He's a team player."

So, play a team game, Boucher said: "You want to give him a nice pass, but a nice pass is very difficult to make. And the problem is guys pass up shots. Shots are rebounds. It's an indirect pass, and that's how he scored most of his goals. Just play the game. He'll find a way."

Considering Stamkos has 10 goals in his past eight games, the odds are probably good he'll hit 60. "It's something that you never know if you're going to get that close again in your career," he said. "You might as well try to at least go for it."

Fine by St. Louis.

"We'll talk about it," he said, "when it happens."

streaking on: Host AHL Norfolk extended its league-record winning streak to 24 games with a 3-1 win over Binghamton.

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