TAMPA — All goals aren’t created equal. But when you’ve scored as many as Steven Stamkos has throughout his career, you learn to appreciate the lucky bounces — especially when they result in a win.
The Lightning’s return home Tuesday night began with a pregame ceremony honoring Stamkos for reaching the 500-goal mark last Wednesday in Vancouver, and it ended with Stamkos breaking a tie with a late third-period goal to propel the Lightning to a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Amalie Arena.
“That’s why Stammer’s Stammer,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It was a big play for us, obviously, in this game, but Stammer kind of has that type of timing. (Tuesday), he gets honored and he gets the game-winning goal. That’s just Stammer’s style. It was awesome.”
Goal No. 505 wasn’t flashy. It probably won’t be on his career highlight reel when he goes into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but it gave the Lightning a much-needed win when they really needed two points.
Coming off a season-long road trip that ended with back-to-back losses in Edmonton and Calgary, the Lightning returned home for a challenging three-game set heading into the All-Star break. A key to piling up points is preventing losing streaks, and the win allowed the Lightning (30-15-1, 61 points) to avoid losing three straight games for the first time this season.
They’ve won 10 straight at Amalie Arena, one shy of the franchise record, and have an .804 point percentage at home, second-best in the league behind only Boston (.904), which they host Thursday.
“I think we were excited to come back home,” Stamkos said. “It was a long trip, it was five games, getting in late every night and back to back. It just felt like a wear-and-tear type of trip, and we knew coming home with these few games we had an opportunity to play some really good teams and get back on track.”
Tuesday’s game had a physical playoff feel, something unusual for teams that don’t see each other often. Special teams played a big role, especially in a second period that included a combined six penalties.
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Before puck drop, Stamkos received a reception from the home crowd and gifts — a golf trip from his teammates, a commemorative gold stick presented to him by owner Jeff Vinik and pair of gold pucks for his sons Carter and Chase to go with the gold ministicks they received after Stamkos’ 1,000th career point in December. A tribute video ended with congratulations from the other two active members of the 500-goal club, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
“It’s great,” Stamkos said. “It’s becoming pretty expensive for the guys this year with all the gifts.
“Like for the 1,000th (point), it’s great to be at home and celebrate that with my family and my teammates and coaching staff and the entire staff and the fans. They were great again (Tuesday). It’s one of those moments where you allow yourself to sit back a little bit and enjoy the video and some of the fresh-faced goals and the teammates who made those plays.”
The Lightning’s start was sluggish, as they allowed a league-high ninth short-handed goal after a turnover by defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. The Wild also capitalized on the power play, taking advantage of a tripping penalty by Sergachev with Kirill Kaprizov’s goal with 8:18 left in the second giving Minnesota a 2-1 lead.
Corey Perry recorded his first two-goal game since Dec. 5, 2021 at Philadelphia, tipping in two Ross Colton shots after positioning himself in front of the net. Perry’s tip-in on the power play with 1:55 left in the second tied the game at 2.
“It’s tough, penalties back and forth,” Perry said. “Some guys don’t play, some guys play more. The rhythm was off, but we found a way to come out tied and give ourselves an opportunity in the third period.”
The Lightning fought off a Minnesota surge early in a final period that saw goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stop all 15 shots he faced as part of a 33-save night. Vasilevskiy stopped all 28 shots he saw at even strength.
With the game tied at 2, Sergachev skated into the right circle and tried to find Stamkos in the middle of the ice. But his pass deflected off two Minnesota players to Stamkos at the right post. Stamkos shot the puck across the goal line behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and it bounced off the Wild’s Ryan Hartman into the net for Stamkos’s 24th goal of the season.
“For all the good plays that don’t go in, you’re rewarded with one like that,” Stamkos said. “So, certainly a big goal in the game, and we’ll take it.”
Nikita Kucherov added an empty net goal with 17 seconds left to seal the win.
“We had some big stops there and kept the game within reach, and going into the third, a tied game, we had a chance to win it,” Stamkos said. “So I think we’ve just utilized our momentum here at home ice. We’ve been really good here lately, and it was a really good third period for us to get some confidence.”
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