It was only a matter of time before Steven Stamkos returned to his goal-scoring ways.
Stamkos scored twice — doubling his tally for the year — as the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning downed the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Saturday night to remain first in the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning captain had two goals in 12 games coming into Saturday’s encounter. He was kept off the scoresheet six times this season, including against the Nashville Predators in a 4-1 loss the last time out.
“Any time you score and help your team win, it’s great,” said Stamkos, who recorded his first multi-goal game of the season. “Obviously tonight was a big bounce-back game for our team, for our line.
“Any time you can produce in a win, in an atmosphere like this, it’s icing on the cake.”
After the Canadiens jumped to an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Max Domi, Stamkos scored his first of the game at 13:42 of the first period. With time expiring on a Nicolas Deslauriers penalty, Stamkos took a pass from Nikita Kucherov and beat Carey Price with a one-timer from the faceoff circle.
With the Lightning up 2-1 after two periods, Stamkos added to Tampa’s lead 52 seconds into the third. Again on a pass from Kucherov, Stamkos skated into the slot and held onto the puck for a second before beating Price top shelf with a wrist shot.
“I’m trying to get back that shooting mentality,” said Stamkos. “Obviously when you get one early in the game, you’re feeling more confident. Funny how that happens. I got the puck in the slot and knew where I wanted to go.
“That one felt good. I hadn’t shot a puck like that and felt that release in a while.”
The Lightning are 3-0-0 this season when Stamkos scores.
“He’s a natural goal scorer,” said 21-year-old Lightning winger Mathieu Joseph. “You see it every time. What a shot he has. He’s dangerous every time he takes a shot.”
The Lightning (9-3-1) improved to 6-0-0 against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
Montreal (7-4-2) scored first for the ninth time this season when Domi got the fans on their feet just 58 seconds after puck drop — with the game’s first shot on goal.
Domi intercepted a clearing attempt by former Canadiens draft pick Mikhail Sergachev at the blue line and evaded a check by Adam Erne before firing a wrist shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy for his seventh goal of the season.
No stranger to early goals, it was the third time this season Domi scored within a game’s first two minutes.
That was the only puck that got past Vasilevskiy, who made 34 saves for his seventh victory of the season.
“He’s one of the best goalies in the league, but you need to create traffic to get one by him,” said Domi, who has points in eight of his last nine games. “We didn’t do enough of that tonight. He played his game, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t score on him when he’s playing his game. We have to do a better job of going to dirty areas.
“We didn’t do that tonight.”
After Stamkos tied it up, J.T. Miller made it 2-1 at 16:24 after a skillful mid-air interception by Anton Stralman gave Tampa Bay the puck in Montreal’s zone.
Just one day after signing a six-year contract with Tampa, Yanni Gourde added an insurance goal with 4:03 remaining in the game as he swatted a loose puck in the crease past Price, who made 32 saves in defeat.
Montreal finished 0-for-4 with the man advantage. Coach Claude Julien’s men have not scored a power-play goal in their last 15 opportunities.
The Lightning have won five of their last six games versus the Canadiens.
Notes: Montreal’s Phillip Danault played his 200th NHL game. Canadiens forward Paul Byron (lower-body injury) did not play. He’s expected to miss at least two more games. Montreal defenceman Karl Alzner was a healthy scratch for the ninth time this season.