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Montreal Canadiens Scott Gomez scores the second goal against Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Antero Nittymaki during first period NHL hockey action Tuesday, March 9, 2010, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz (Ryan Remiorz)
Montreal Canadiens Scott Gomez scores the second goal against Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Antero Nittymaki during first period NHL hockey action Tuesday, March 9, 2010, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz (Ryan Remiorz)

Habs' Gomez grounds Lightning Add to ...

The contract, goes the argument, is simply too considerable to ever truly be justified.

But Scott Gomez of the Montreal Canadiens is doing his best to upset the conventional wisdom concerning his weighty $7.3-million (U.S.) annual paycheque.

The Alaskan scored once and set up two other Habs goals in a 5-3 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning last night, continuing a run of torrid play in which he's chalked up 15 points in his past 11 games.

First, the 30-year-old marauded down the left flank on a first-period power play, rounded the net, and set up Glen Metropolit's opener.

Then he grabbed a loose puck, waltzed out of the corner, and snapped it between Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki's legs.

And finally, he corralled a bouncing puck and whipped a first-time pass to linemate Benoît Pouliot, who obliged by scoring his 16th of the year and chasing Niittymaki.

It was a pivotal game for both teams as they try to claw their way into a playoff position in the bunched-up Eastern Conference - the Habs currently sit a precarious seventh.

The victory represents Montreal's fourth in five games since the Olympic break, a fortuitous time to go on a run given Tampa and other teams in the playoff mix have up to three games in hand.

But the Lightning, who are one of the league's poorest road teams, did themselves no favours in an uneven performance that will be remembered for their sloppy defending and deficient finishing.

In so doing, the visitors failed to draw full advantage against a weary team that was just one day removed from a West Coast road swing.

Not that the fatigue was evident from the Habs' top line, which tallied four points.

Gomez and linemates Pouliot and Brian Gionta have now combined for 18 points in the five games they've played since the Olympic gold-medal final.

With injured winger and leading goal-scorer Mike Cammalleri still at least a week from returning from a knee problem, the Gomez line will have to shoulder the load.

And last night it did from the get-go, pressing and harrying a clearly uncomfortable Tampa defence and hitting the scoreboard less than three minutes into the game.

The beneficiary of Gomez's first flash of genius was Metropolit, who celebrated his 400th NHL game by scoring his 15th of the season. He also added a helper, Mathieu Darche scored a pair (his fourth and fifth of the season) and Andrei Markov added two assists.

The game last night also featured one of the NHL's hottest players - Tampa centre Steven Stamkos, who potted his 41st goal of the year, and 17th power-play marker, past a floundering Jaroslav Halak (defenceman Matt Walker and forward Martin St. Louis scored the Bolts' other goals).

It was the franchise-record extending 17th consecutive game in which Stamkos has recorded at least a point.

The former first overall pick is one of five players to score 50 NHL goals before his 20th birthday (others include Rick Nash, Jaromir Jagr and Ilya Kovalchuk), and no one has scored more goals in the league since Feb. 17, 2009 - he and Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin each have 57 in the intervening 13 months.

Earlier in the day, the 20-year-old phenom used his world-class shot to lethal effect, smashing not one, but two glass panels on consecutive slap shots during the Bolts' game-day skate.

"I've never done that, I've never even seen that," the Unionville, Ont., native grinned afterward. "It was a first for me. Everyone's trying to break it after, we were like kids in a candy shop, it was fun."

On current form, Stamkos will comfortably reach the 50-goal plateau this season.

"It's going to be tough, but hopefully I can keep up the pace I'm on," he said.

 

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