VANCOUVER — Wednesday night belonged to captain Steven Stamkos, who finally scored his 500th career goal in the first period of the Lightning’s 5-2 win over the Canucks.
Stamkos became the third active player, and 47th in NHL history, to reach the milestone. He is the 23rd to do it with one franchise.
Stamkos’ record-setting goal, which came on his second shift at the 4:40 mark in the first period, was the first of four unanswered goals in the period, but Tampa Bay had to withstand a third-period rally by the Canucks.
Still, the Lightning head to Edmonton having won the first three games of their five-game road trip.
Here’s what we learned from the Lightning’s win in Vancouver:
It’s different in Canada
The reaction Stamkos received from the crowd at Rogers Arena stood out. Unlike when Stamkos netted his 1,000th point in Philadelphia, when his teammates skating onto the ice to celebrate was initially met with boos by Flyers fans, the Canucks fans gave Stamkos a standing ovation.
Yes, it would have been great for Stamkos to reach 500 goals at Amalie Arena, or even before 10 p.m. in Tampa. But having it happen in Canada, where the fans are astute to what milestones like this one mean, was a fine consolation. Stamkos was touched, saying it reminded him of the reception he received in Winnipeg after scoring his 60th goal in the 2011-12 season.
“I don’t want to say it surprised me because I know the passion of Canadian hockey fans and I know they’re very aware of what’s going on in the hockey world,” Stamkos said.
It was a big night for Brian Elliott
Elliott made his first start in two weeks; his last start on Jan. 4 in Minnesota was one of his worst outings of the season, as he allowed four goals on 32 shots. But Elliott gets a mulligan for that one because he was an emergency starter after playing the previous night in Chicago when Andrei Vasilevskiy came down with an illness and was unable to go.
Elliott wasn’t rusty at all Wednesday, and he had to be good early, saving 18 shots in the first period on his way to a 37-save night. He stopped all 30 shots he saw in the first two periods and held the Canucks scoreless for the first 46 minutes, 35 seconds before his shutout bid was halted by Andrei Kuzmenko’s tip-in early in the third period.
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Elliott has had a couple of rocky outings over the past month, but has still won 10 of his last 12 starts and held opponents to two goals or fewer in four of his last six outings. “Stammer’s the highlight of the night, but you’ve got to tip your cap to Brian Elliott because he kept it the way it was down the stretch,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Lightning sat back too much down the stretch
After scoring four goals on their first 10 shots on Canucks starter Spencer Martin, Tampa Bay didn’t do much offensively after that. They had just 14 shots on goal against Collin Delia, who entered after Stamkos’ second goal made it 4-0 with 5:25 remaining in the first period.
The Lightning had just four shots on goal in the third period before scoring an empty-netter late. Unlike their first two wins on this trip, the Lightning played passively down the stretch, content to sit back and let Vancouver dominate zone time. And that allowed the Canucks back into the game after they scored a pair of power-play goals over a three-minute stretch in the first half of the third period.
“We got two points out of it,” Cooper said. “Am I happy we won? Yes. I’m not really happy with the way we won. We got that four-goal lead and then we just sat back for two periods. We’ll need better out of us for (Thursday in Edmonton) because we can’t just sit on these leads like we did.”
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