The Lightning just lost to the Winnipeg Jets despite putting four pucks past Connor Hellebuyck. As you may have guessed, Steven Stamkos did not score any of those goals.
As of yesterday he was working out in the team complex and walking without crutches, but seeing the Jets reminded me that four years, a broken leg, and a torn meniscus ago, Stamkos scored one of the biggest goals in his career against these Jets (well not THESE Jets, but the franchise).*
On April 7th, 2012, in the last game of the year, Stamkos scored his 60th goal of the season. With about 16 minutes to go in the season and the Lightning holding a 2-1 lead over Winnipeg, Marty St. Louis found Stamkos gliding in front of the net. After a quick delay to pull the defender in as a screen, Stamkos fired a wrister past Ondrej Pavelec.
No one had scored 60 goals in a season since 2007-08, when Alex Ovechkin pumped in 65 to lead the league. Before Ovechkin it had been 11 seasons since a player had reached that magic mark. Mario Lemieux scored 69 and Jaromir Jagr scored 62 for a prolific Pittsburgh Penguins team in 1995-96, a team that somehow did not win the Stanley Cup (they got bounced by the upstart Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Finals).
Since Stamkos scored that night in Winnipeg, nobody has reached that mark. That means in 20 years, only two players have reached the 60 goal total. Heck, in the entire history of the NHL only 20 different players have reached the mark, so it is an impressive notch in his belt.
The 60-goal year capped off a fantastic three-season run for the young center that saw him win two Maurice Richard Trophies (yes, he shared one with Sidney Crosby), and score 156 goals in 246 games. Not too bad for a skinny kid from Markham.
Out of the goals Stamkos recorded in 2011-12, 48 were scored at even strength, 12 were game winners, a NHL-record five were overtime goals, 12 were power play goals and only two were empty netters. He also added 37 assists for a point total of 97, which, for now, is a career high. He finished second to Evgeni Malkin in points and in the Hart Trophy race (Malkin ran away with the voting, racking up 144 first place votes in a year where Sidney Crosby only played in 22 games).
The career year was somewhat wasted as the 2011-12 Lightning struggled to keep the puck out of their own net. Dwayne Roloson lost his war against time, and at age 42 put up a 13-16-3/.886/3.66 stat line in 42 games. Mathieu Garon was put up marginally better numbers but managed to turn a .901 save percentage and 2.85 GAA into 23 wins.
The team finished third in the Southeast and were eliminated from the playoffs in early April. By that time Stamkos had 58 goals and was looking at a difficult three game road trip to end the season. He was kept off the scoreboard against Montreal to open the trip as the Bolts lost 5-2. The team played in Toronto the next night and Stamkos scored his 59th goal in front of his family and friends as Bruno Gervais slid him with a nifty little pass allowing Stamkos to tap it into an empty net
(Oh, Bruno Gervais, that was your last point in a Lightning uniform and you made it count.)
That set up the game in Winnipeg. The good news for Stamkos was that he had scored more against the Jets/Thrashers franchise than any other team in the league (19 goals). The bad news was that it is really, really hard to score 60 goals, especially when neither team has anything to play for.
With the partisan crowd booing him most of the game and chanting “No Goal Stamkos” whenever he touched the puck, Stamkos was held off the scoresheet for the first two periods and had only two shots on Pavelec. The third shot was the charm as he found the empty space in front of the Winnipeg net and snapped the puck over Pavelec’s glove. Those boos turned into cheers as the crowd acknowledged the accomplishment.
Perhaps somewhat exhausted by the pursuit, the Lightning coughed up the 3-1 lead as Winnipeg tied it on a Jim Slater goal with less than a minute to go in the game. It all turned out well when Teddy Purcell scored in overtime to cap off perhaps the most forgotten hat trick in team history.
Stamkos actually got off to a somewhat slow start that year, only scoring 1 goal in the first 5 games of the season. Along the way he “suffered” through two 3-game, a 4-game and a 5-game scoreless streaks throughout the year. Of course, he balanced that out with two 4-game and a 5-game goal streak. Stamkos has always been a feast or famine type of goal scorer.
There were two hat tricks along the way (both at home). The first was in November against the Blackhawks, and the second was in Carolina on New Year’s Eve. Stamkos even added another 12 games where he scored 2 goals. And it wasn’t like he faltered down the stretch. After going 4 games without a goal towards the end of March he finished strong with 10 goals in his last 10 games.
Stamkos also scored with a couple of different lines. For the most part it was Marty St. Louis setting him up (he assisted on 19 of Stamkos’ goals), but Purcell and Steve Downie also benefited from playing alongside number 91 for long stretches of the year. Heck, he even made Matt Gilroy look good from time to time.
The best part to watch was that he scored in all kinds of ways. He evolved from the sniper with the one-timer from the right circle to an all-around scorer who deflected pucks in, bulldozed goals past the goaltender, scored on breakaways and two-on-ones, scored with quick wrist shots and big slapshots. It was a wonderful thing to see in a somewhat disappointing season.
In fact, even now, it’s still kind of uplifting. Watch this video of him scoring all 60 goals and tell me you don’t feel better afterwards.
*In case you’re wondering. There were 6 players that played in both the 60-goal game and the Tuesday night game along with Stamkos.
(Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart played in the 60 goal game and were on Winnipeg’s roster Tuesday night, but were scratched.)