Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stamkos hits sweet 60

Jets fans give Lightning sniper standing ovation

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Steven Stamkos sat slumped in his stall in the Tampa Bay dressing room, a look of exhaustion and pure joy dominating his mug.

And framing the look were the remnants of a shaving-cream pie in the face he took from teammate Ryan Malone after scoring his 60th goal of the season in Saturday's 4-3 OT win over the Winnipeg Jets.

"It's just like a weight off your shoulder," Stamkos said. "I mean, I know it hasn't been too many games I've had to worry about it, but I think I've talked about this the most I've talked about anything in my career the last two weeks, and especially with the last three games being in Canada.

"It's amazing. It was great to do it in a win. It's tough to end the year not in the playoffs, but it's something I'll remember forever."

Stamkos became the first player in the NHL to hit the 60-goal mark since Alex Ovechkin potted 65 in the 2007-08 season.

And even though Jet fans have been occasionally cutthroat this season to opposition stars, Stamkos was moved when they rose to salute him with a standing ovation for reaching the milestone.

"That was unbelievable," he said. "I had goosebumps. As a Canadian kid coming in here all year this has probably been the best crowd outside of my (hometown) fans in Toronto. These guys are loud, they're energetic, they're passionate... booing me all game and then when that went in... they obviously knew the magnitude of that goal.

"I have a lot of respect for the fans here and that made it even more special. To do it in Canada and to get an ovation like that was amazing. I'm glad I was able to do it here."

Stamkos finished the season with career highs in goals (60) and points (97) in his fourth NHL season. The 22-year-old Toronto product now has 328 points in 324 career games and has averaged 52 goals over the past three seasons.

What made the moment even more special was the fact that veteran teammate Marty St. Louis was the man who set him up for his 60th.

"It couldn't have been a better script," Stamkos said. "Marty is a huge reason why I've had the successes that I've had in the NHL in my first four years. Two years ago when I scored 50 he wasn't able to get an assist, this year he did, and on 60.

"He's the best playmaker in the game right now and I'm so fortunate to play with him and I'm so happy to be able that he was able to share that moment with me.

"It's special. I don't think it's going to sink in until after the season," Stamkos continued. "I was feeling the pressure. I was trying my best to not show it, to hide it. (Jets' goaltender Ondrej) Pavelec robbed me of that chance in the second period. I was really focussing on trying not to get too discouraged. It's kind of surreal right now. I don't think it's gong to sink in until we're said and done here."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2012 B2

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