WINNIPEG -- The Tampa Bay Lightning, Winnipeg Jets and 15,004 full-throated fans all have a memory to take away from the clubs' season finale at MTS Centre on Saturday evening.
Teddy Purcell completed his first career hat trick with a goal 1:08 into overtime to give the Lightning a 4-3 win, but Steven Stamkos and the Winnipeg fans provided the take-away memories.
The Lightning (38-36-8) arrived in Winnipeg looking to get Stamkos his 60th goal of the season, while the Jets (37-35-10) and their fans indulged in one final night together inside the cozy rink as they wrapped up the return of the NHL to the city.
Stamkos reached the 60-goal mark 3:29 into the third period to become the first player to reach 60 goals in a season since Alex Ovechkin four years ago, and just the second since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in1995-96. Winnipeg fans greeted the Stamkos goal with a standing ovation, one of many loud ovations that the home crowd delivered throughout the game.
"I have a lot of respect for the fans here," said Stamkos, who had endured rough treatment from the partisan crowd in the Lightning's previous two visits. "That made it even more special...to have them do an ovation like that was amazing."
Fittingly enough, Stamkos and his wing man, Martin St. Louis, combined on the milestone goal, which gave the Lightning a 3-1 lead. St. Louis delivered a feed to the slot that Stamkos ripped past Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. The pair combined for 85 goals this season, second-most in the League.
"To be honest," Stamkos explained, "I just tried to get a shot off on the short side and it went in. It was a great feeling. I'm so fortunate to play with [St. Louis], and so happy that he was able to share that moment, too. It's special. I don't think it's going to sink in [immediately]."
Pavelec acknowledged his place in hockey history.
"I'm going to be probably on the highlights all over the world for the next few weeks and probably next year, too," Pavelec said. "It's tough to score 60 goals, but they are going to show it every time, probably."
Both coaches also lavished praise on Stamkos.
"What I like about Steven's accomplishment is that he always makes it a team thing," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "He makes the players a part of it. The players want to be part of it because of that. I just like the way the players want to do it for him, and he wants to do it for the players. It's never really about his stats. It's about the team. He's such an unselfish person."
Jets coach Claude Noel also gushed about Stamkos.
"I'd like to sincerely congratulate Stamkos for his 60th," he said. "I'm very impressed with him, and I'm very impressed with the way our fans were respectful of him. I thought it was a really good moment for our fans, and I thought it was a classy move on our part, from the fans' standpoint."
Purcell sealed Tampa Bay's night when he roofed a shot from the low slot off a feed from Victor Hedman. The Lightning slipped past Winnipeg into 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
The Jets, who relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta during the summer, finished with 84 points, the most for the franchise since its lone visit to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2006-07, when the Thrashers won they Southeast Division with a franchise-record 97 points.
"I've never had a goal in overtime before since street hockey when I was 16," Purcell said. "It's a nice feeling to play second-, third-fiddle to a big game by [goaltender Dwayne Roloson] and obviously [Stamkos]. I think we were all more excited than he was. I can only imagine how thrilled and excited he was -- and relieved -- to get that 60th. Even though it's a great individual accomplishment, we're all excited for him."
Purcell believes that the club-wide effort to push Stamkos toward 60 goals brought the Tampa Bay roster closer.
"It's kind of bittersweet to not be in the playoffs," Purcell said. "But to go out on a high note and get some confidence heading into the summer is nice. You always have to try to take positives out of a tough season. Just to see how close and excited and what everybody was doing to get Steven his 60th just goes to show that we do have a good bunch in here."
Before Purcell's game-winner, the Jets had rallied from the two-goal deficit to force overtime on a pair of goals by Jim Slater, the second coming with 53 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 3-3. As the entire building stood and chanted "Go Jets Go," the Jets put non-stop pressure on the Lightning inside their own zone in the final 90 seconds before Slater flicked a Blake Wheeler pass past Roloson from the edge of the crease.
"Best [atmosphere] I've ever been a part of, for sure," Slater said. "I didn't want to leave the ice. Just a fantastic place to play. It's a sad day for us because [we have] got five months off before our next taste of it."
Vincent Lecavalier assisted on Purcell's opening two goals. Roloson, perhaps concluding his NHL career at age 42, stopped 28 shots. The Jets got their other goal by Nik Antropov, who also scored in the club's home opener on Oct. 9 against Montreal, while Pavelec made 21 saves.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring with 2:11 left in the first period when Lecavalier won a right-circle draw back to Purcell, who smoked a low shot that beat Pavelec from the top of the circle. He made it 2-0 at 1:12 of the second period when Lecavalier broke into the Winnipeg zone along the right-side boards before centering a pass that Purcell one-timed into the bottom-left corner.
The Jets responded after maintaining heavy pressure low in the Tampa Bay zone and crowding Roloson. Antropov fired home a shot from between the hash marks at 8:53.
Only 1:30 after the Stamkos goal restored Tampa Bay's two-goal lead, Slater again made it a one-goal game when he sliced through Lightning defensemen Mike Commodore and Brian Lee at the Tampa Bay blue line, raced in and tucked the puck around Roloson.
Winnipeg's players and coaches have spoken endlessly about their fans, and Pavelec offered up one final dose of praise.
"I see it every night," Pavelec said, "every single night. Like I've said so many times, they've been unbelievable all year long, and they've been behind us all year long, and it's fun to play in front of those people. It's always fun to go in this building and play. It was really, really fun to be part of it and I really enjoyed it."
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Martin St. Louis
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