Amid all the hype surrounding the Winnipeg Jets’ final game of the season on Saturday, all eyes will be on one player – Steven Stamkos.
It’s the last chance the Tampa Bay Lightning forward will have to reach 60 goals this season, something only four other players – Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Bure and Alex Ovechkin – have done since 1993.
Stamkos hit 59 goals on Thursday during Tampa’s 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “If I do score, it’s going to be a big one,” Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times after that game. “But I’m not focused on it. I’m going to get my chances.”
The 22-year old has 10 more goals than any other player in the NHL right now but he trails Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in points. Malkin has 107 heading into Saturday’s games, while Stamkos has 96.
“He goes to the net, he drives, he pays the price,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said this week in reference to Stamkos’s style of play. “It’s not a skill. There’s a willingness to do the thing that, the dirty work we call in hockey. … People don’t realize that the best guys get cross-checked and slashed and get sticks in the face. And if you did that to people in the street you go to prison. It’s not everybody who wants to do that on a constant basis, but he does.”
Stamkos is in his fourth year with the Lightning and he has scored more than 50 goals once before, in the 2009-10 season when he netted 51.
Stamkos has certainly had success against the Jets. In the five previous games he has scored three goals and earned five assists. He got the game-winning goal when the teams last met, on March 31 in Tampa, when he scored just 45 seconds into overtime to give the Lightning a 3-2 win. That was his fifth overtime goal this season, an NHL record.
“Those moments create memories,” he said after that game. “That’s pretty special for as long as the NHL has been around.”