NEWARK, N.J. --
The return of Vincent Lecavalier
to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning
on Thursday comes at a time when Steven Stamkos
seeks to become the 39th player in League history to score 60 goals in a season.
The Lightning visit Prudential Center on Thursday for the fourth and final meeting of the season with the New Jersey Devils
. Stamkos has produced an NHL-leading 55 goals in 2011-12, recording 12 goals in his last 14 games.
Is 60 goals on his mind?
"With six games left, I'm not thinking about  too much as I was thinking about 50," Stamkos said. "That was more in my head a little bit. But I'll go out there and whatever happens, happens. It is a possibility, and I'll try for it."
He would also trade in all those gaudy statistics if it meant a playoff berth.
"You'd trade in some of these individuals stats and goals to be in the playoffs, especially for me, going as far as we did last year and, ultimately, believing that we had a team that could have won it," Stamkos said. "It's tough. That's what you play for. You don't play for individual stuff, you play for the Stanley Cup, and when you're not in it, it's tough and frustrating."
His 55 goals are the most by a center since Mario Lemieux
scored 69 in 1995-96. The fourth-year center has 174 goals and 322 points in 319 NHL games.
Not surprisingly, Stamkos has become one of the more respected players in the League.
"I think he's phenomenal," Devils coach Peter DeBoer
said. "I think he may be the best scorer to come along in the last 20-25 years in my mind, because he's found different ways to do it. He came in as a power-play, one-timer type of scorer, and the game takes that away from you because of the preparation and studying that was done. But he's found other ways to score."
Said Devils captain Zach Parise
: "He goes about his business, scores goals and dominates games, but you can tell he respects other players. He plays hard and he'll hit you and do whatever he needs to do between the whistles, but he's not a dirty player. He plays the right way, and because of that you appreciate and respect what he does even more."
DeBoer finds it rather remarkable that Stamkos has been able to light the lamp so frequently at a time when coaching and goaltending are so good.
"You listen to comments on how hard it is to score in the League nowadays … Zach Parise
discussed how hard it was to reach 30," DeBoer said. "That puts that number [50 goals] in perspective. I think the game is faster and better, the coaching preparation and film work and system play is at an all-time high. I know the hours the staff put in to matchups every night. I don't think I've seen it at this level ever before, so that's what makes scoring 50 so impressive to me."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale