MONTREAL — Steven Stamkos is not off a to a very Stamkos-like start to the season. But he had a classic Stamkos showing with two goals Saturday in a 4-1 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
It wasn't that the Lightning captain hadn't been playing well, but he hadn't been scoring. Stamkos entered the game with just two goals. His six assists kept him among the team's top scorers, just without the goals he was accustomed to.
"Trying to get back to a shooting mentality," Stamkos said.
Stamkos didn't just score, he scored in his typical fashion. Nikita Kucherov assisted on both goals.
The first goal came as a power play expired in the first period. Twice the Lightning (9-3-1) tried to bang the puck past goalie Carey Price in the crease. It then bounced out to the hashmarks, and Kucherov slid it over to Stamkos at the opposite dot. Stamkos did as Stamkos does and one-timed it home to tied the score at 1.
To borrow from the Lightning's Twitter post, it was a Stamkos One-Timer(TM).
Then, in the opening minute of the third period, Stamkos struck again, roofing a shot from the hashmarks over Price's glove. Again, vintage Stamkos to make it 3-1. Or, as vintage as it gets for a 28-year-old.
"I knew where I wanted to go," Stamkos said. "I haven't shot a puck like that and felt that release in a while."
Stamkos didn't have a goal until the fourth game of the season, against the Red Wings. There were another five games before his second goal.
"You have a gifted scorer in 'Stammer,' who has done this for a long time in this league," coach Jon Cooper said. "It's just a matter of time."
Stamkos' first goal was the first step in the Lightning regaining its footing after again starting slowly and giving up the first goal.
This was another matchup of two of the top goalies in the league. Pekka Rinne and the Predators beat Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning on Thursday. But this time it was the 24-year-old Russian who bested Price and the Canadiens.
"It's Carey Price, one of the best goalies in the world, but so is 'Vasy,' " Stamkos said.
Vasilevskiy said it's premature to put himself in that class. He has had only one good season to Price's 12.
Vasilevskiy got flat beat on the first goal. Max Domi sniped a shot that Vasilevskiy didn't even have a chance to react to before the puck was behind him less than a minute into the game. But that was the only one to get by him.
After that, Vasilevskiy sprawled, dove and stood tall, making 34 saves.
"Vasilevskiy is coming into his own as a starter now," Cooper said. "Last year was kind of his coming out party, playing 60-plus games. And now it's going to be the norm for him. He has to face Price, (the Rangers' Henrik) Lundqvist, Rinne. He's in the mix with all those goaltenders. It's fun to watch."
It was the kind of performance that had to feel good for the Lightning in a game show on Hockey Night in Canada, in front of a loud, passionate Bell Centre crowd of 21,288.
Cooper referred to the atmosphere and aura of the building, saying Vasilevskiy raised his level of play to match it.
Lightning 2 0 2 4
Canadiens 1 0 0 1
First Period—1, Montreal, Domi 8, 0:58. 2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 5 (Kucherov), 13:42. 3, Tampa Bay, Miller 5 (Stralman), 16:24. Penalties—Gourde, TB, (interference), 1:58; Deslauriers, MTL, (boarding), 11:42.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Joseph, TB, (holding stick), 7:45; Coburn, TB, (tripping), 17:45.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 6 (Kucherov, Stralman), 0:52. 5, Tampa Bay, Gourde 6 (Stralman, Point), 15:57. Penalties—Tatar, MTL, (holding), 7:28; Drouin, MTL, (tripping), 13:00; Coburn, TB, (interference), 16:40. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 18-7-11—36. Montreal 12-17-6—35. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Montreal 0 of 4. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 8-2-1 (35 shots-34 saves). Montreal, Price 5-4-2 (36-32). A—21,302 (21,288). T—2:31. Referees—Dan O'Halloran, Francois St Laurent. Linesmen—Lonnie Cameron, Ryan Galloway.