SUNRISE — Lightning center Steven Stamkos played a career high 26 minutes, 20 seconds during Sunday's season-ending 3-1 victory over the Panthers, but his toughest five minutes might have come after the game.
That was when Stamkos, with 51 goals after his empty-netter, sat in the dressing room at the BankAtlantic Center and watched on television to see if Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby would score in overtime against the Islanders to break their tie for the league lead.
He did not, so both players get the Rocket Richard Trophy, one goal ahead of Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
"Pretty surreal to do it in my second year in the league, and to share it with a player like Crosby is pretty special," said Stamkos, who also gets a $150,000 league bonus. "And to win it without a guy like Ovechkin in the mix is pretty special, too. He's such a dominant scorer."
"I've never been one much for ties, but this one I'll sure accept," Crosby told Pittsburgh reporters after his two-goal game. "Steven had a great season. It was a race down the stretch with the three guys for sure."
It was a race for the puck that got Stamkos his goal as Vinny Lecavalier, with a terrific win on a defensive zone faceoff, smacked the puck forward into the neutral zone. Stamkos beat Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to the puck and scored with 12.5 seconds left as Florida's Stephen Weiss dived from behind and threw his stick.
"Probably the fastest I've skated all year," Stamkos said.
"He got shot out of a cannon," coach Rick Tocchet said. "It's a scary thing. It wasn't his shot that got him to 51, it was his speed. He was flying."
Did Stamkos mind earning the trophy with an empty-netter?
"No," he said. "All those posts I hit (three) against Carolina, it was bound to happen like that. I'll take it either way."
But what a strange game, left wing Marty St. Louis said:
"It's tough playing while looking for him the whole time."
You could see it when St. Louis, in the first period, held a puck at the side of the net and waited for Stamkos to get into shooting position rather than shoot himself.
But Stamkos, who had eight shots on goal, worked as well, fighting through double and triple coverages. He even moved from his usual spot on the power play, the left faceoff circle, to the blue line or the slot to try to find shooting space.
He played 11:45 of the third period, including all four minutes of a failed power play.
"I appreciate the efforts of my teammates," said Stamkos, who joins Lecavalier (2006-07) as the only Lightning players to win the award that dates to 1998-99.
"I wouldn't have been playing like that under different circumstances. It shows the class guys we have on our team and the coaching staff."
That said, "It was a long four minutes."
But nothing compared to watching Crosby, whose chance to tie Stamkos ended when Jordan Leopold scored Pittsburgh's overtime winner.
"That was tough," Stamkos said of watching and waiting with his teammates. "But it was good to be with the guys and see someone else score. I'll take it."
First Period—1, Florida, Olesz 14 (Dvorak, Matthias), 2:06. 2, Tampa Bay, Tanguay 10 (Bochenski, Lundin), 8:01. 3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 24 (Tanguay, Malone), 10:20. Penalties—Ellerby, Fla (high-sticking), 5:53.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Lashoff, TB (interference), 5:52.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 51 (Lecavalier), 19:47 (en). Penalties—Reinprecht, Fla (hooking), 5:39; Stamkos, TB (holding), 7:31; Malone, TB, major (fighting), 9:23; Ballard, Fla (instigator, instigator-face shield, fighting), 9:23; McCabe, Fla (hooking), 19:17; Foster, TB (cross-checking), 19:41. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 15-9-7—31. Florida 6-13-12—31. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 5; Florida 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Smith 13-18-7 (31 shots-30 saves). Florida, Clemmensen 9-8-2 (30-28). A—15,884 (19,250).