Slogging through a rookie season that was filled with unreal expectations and much too real drama in the locker room, Steven Stamkos provided a flash of his goal-scoring abilities on a February night in 2009 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
On one side of the ice was Stamkos, the 2008 first overall pick in the NHL. On the other was Patrick Kane, the 2007 first overall pick. The Lightning were in shambles, on their way to another lottery pick in the draft with a lineup filled with aging talent and second-tier prospects. The Blackhawks were on their way up, fighting for the Central Division title and icing a core of young talent led by Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Not only were they bad, the Lightning were beat up. Injuries forced them to put Josef Melichar on the ice, use Cory Murphy for over 21 minutes, and have Matt Smaby play 22 minutes on a bad foot. They also had a 22-year-old Karri Ramo in net.
The game didn’t start out well. The Blackhawks fired 19 shots at Ramo, who managed to stop 18 of them. Despite the barrage of shots, the Lightning did end the period tied at 1 thanks to Steven Stamkos.
With about seven minutes to play in the period, Lukas Krajicek fired the puck wide of the net. It hit the boards and bounced to the right of Blackhawks’ goaltender, Cristobal Huet. Stamkos was right there to sneak the puck between the netminder and the post to even up the game.
Halfway through the second period, Chicago’s Craig Adams was in the penalty box for four minutes due to some careless stickwork on Vinny Lecavalier. The Lightning capitalized on the transgression. Vinny Prospal held the puck below the goal line and waited until the defense collapsed on him. He then fired a bullet to Stamkos, all alone in the left circle, who had enough time to load up on a snap shot that Huet never saw. It went right past his shoulder and into the net. The Lightning had the lead and were still on the man advantage.
A minute later Stamkos again found himself in the left face-off circle all alone. Steve Eminger one-touched a pass over to him, and the 19-year-old unloaded one of his patented one-timers past Huet, who had half-heartedly slid over to cover the net. The legend of the Stamkos one-timer had yet to make it up to Chicago, apparently.
The goals were scored in three different ways. The first one was with quickness and opportunity. Stamkos put himself in the right spot (a goal scorers knack for being where he needs to be) and it paid off. The second goal showed accuracy and a vicious wrist shot — he might as well have been in a skills competition breaking plates with the way he beat Huet. The third was what would become vintage Stamkos, one of the best one-timers in the history of the NHL.
Thirty-minutes into the game and Steven Stamkos had his first career hat trick. He was the first Lightning rookie to score three goals in a game, and the second youngest player in NHL history to record a hat trick (Bobby Carpenter was 18 when he accomplished the feat for Washington in 1982). Sam Bennett came close to equaling Stamkos’ accomplishment in 2016, but was a few days older. Bennett’s teammate for the 2015-16 Calgary Flames - Karri Ramo.
After the hat trick and the 3-1 lead, the game went rapidly downhill for the Lightning. Chicago scored four unanswered goals to win the game 5-3 while firing a total of 49 shots at Ramo. It would be the first of four games in a row that the Finnish netminder would face 40 or more shots in a night (he somehow managed to will them a win and a shootout loss during that stretch).
For Stamkos, despite the the team struggling, the hat trick sparked a strong finish to his season. He scored 16 goals in his last 25 games. It also eliminated any chance that he would be a healthy scratch at any point during the final two months.
There is something else from this game that speaks to the way Stamkos competes. Watching the highlights from the game provides all the goals (as well as Steve Downie taking on Dustin Byfuglien because Downie is a crazy man), but also a nice play by Stamkos at the very end of the game (starts at the 4:37 mark)
Adam Burish is on his way to an empty-net goal with three seconds left to go. It isn’t going to make the difference if he scores or not, yet Stamkos skates as hard as he can from his office, tracks Burish down, hooks him, kicks the puck away, and then makes another stick save to prevent the goal. He just didn’t quit at all during the play.
To date, Stamkos has eight career hat tricks (including another one against Chicago), and this one remains the only time the Lightning have lost the game when he’s scored three times. Even as a rookie he realized that individual accomplishments are nice, but wins are what mattered as he told the St. Petersburg Times, “Any time you get a hat trick it’s pretty special, but to do it on home ice in my rookie season is a dream come true. But I’d much rather have it in a win.”