Growing up in a Toronto suburb, Lightning ace sniper Steven Stamkos is pretty familiar with the Air Canada Centre. Thursday night, the once and future Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner enters that building needing just two goals to hit the 60-goal mark for the first time in his young career.
Last night, Stamkos was kept off the scoreboard in a 5-2 loss in Montreal. The 22-year-old pivot managed four shots on goal in his 23:32 minutes of work.
"My teammates have definitely been looking for me," Stamkos says. "I've tried to tell them on numerous times to shoot the puck on occasion, but those are the kinds of guys we've got on our team. They want me to succeed and I'm thankful for that."
Center - TBL
GOALS: 58 | ASST: 37 | PTS: 95
SOG: 291 | +/-: 6
Stamkos, who has totaled a League-high 154 goals over the past three seasons, believes he's found the key to staying a consistent goal scorer.
"You kind of have to re-invent yourself after a while," Stamkos says. "Teams are so good breaking down video. It's really hard to do anything without getting noticed.
"It's not an easy league to score goals and get points in. You see the guys who've done over the past years, they've worked extremely hard and they find different ways to do it."
If Stamkos can crack the 60 mark, he'll be the first to do so since Alex Ovechkin put up 65 goals during the 2007-08 season. The Bolts finish the regular season on Saturday in Winnipeg.
Let's take a quick ride on the Express.
After coming within a single victory of a trip to the Cup final last spring, the Bolts took a big step backward this year. Stamkos sees one reason for the drop-off.
"We didn't start the season very well, especially on the road," he says. "In this league, you to find a way to play at least .500 hockey on road and we didn't. We have to find a way to improve on that in future seasons."
Tampa Bay finished its home schedule with a reasonable 25-14-2 mark. On the road, however, with two more games still to play, the Bolts are just 12-22-5. The Blue Jackets are the only team with a worse road record.
Without much fanfare, the Devils have done a terrific job killing penalties this season. Peter DeBoer's team currently leads the league with an 89.8 success rate. They're even better on the road, nullifying their opponent's power play 90.7 percent of the time.
On the season, the Devils have allowed just 26 power-play goals. Interestingly, they've managed to score a League-high 15 short-handed goals. Rookie Adam Henrique leads the charge with four SHGs, while Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus each have three. (Patrik Elias has the club's other two SHGs.)
Clearly, the Devils' playoff opponent (maybe, Florida) will be challenged to make something happen on the power play against this group.
The Bruins have been great front-runners this season. With just two games left on their schedule, the Bs have a league-best .917 win percentage when leading after the first 20 minutes, going 22-2 in such circumstances.
When leading after 40 minutes, the Bruins have been perfect, going 31-0.
If someone wants to dethrone the defending champs, they'd better get the jump on them. It's pretty obvious that Claude Julien's troops know how to close things out.
On Dec. 10, after a 4-1 win in Phoenix, Minnesota was a surprisingly strong 20-7-3 through the first 30 games. The over-achieving Wild came back to Earth in their next 46 games, going a dreadful 11-28-7 before getting points in their last four tilts.
Injuries really hurt an already thin roster. The Wild, after all, are in the midst of a rebuild. They do have some talented prospects like forwards Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund and defenseman Jonas Brodin on the way. Another prospect, Jason Zucker, has joined the club for the stretch run after leaving the University of Denver.
Going forward, the Wild will need to find more offense. The club will finish the season dead last in scoring. With just two games left in their season, Minnesota is averaging just 2.05 goals per game. That's not a formula for success.
Kings veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi likes what rookie Slava Voynov has brought to the mix in LA.
"He might not be the guy that leads the end-to-end rush," Scuderi says, "but he always finds a way to get the puck to the net.
"With the way the League has gone since the lockout, with more of an emphasis on team defense, especially blocking shots from the point; he just finds a way to get it through.
"The way to always score goals has been to get pucks and bodies to the net and good things usually happen. He's the first part of that equation."
Voynov, who has eight goals, 20 points and a plus-13 rating in 52 games, has seen his minutes increase since the departure (via trade) of Jack Johnson. Voynov's presence likely made GM Dean Lombardi a bit more comfortable in dealing Johnson to the Blue Jackets for C Jeff Carter in late February.