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Could the best be yet to come for Stamkos?

by Adam Kimelman
In his 13 NHL seasons, Vincent Lecavalier has left an indelible mark on the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise.

Among his records was the club's single-season goal-scoring mark of 52, which he set when he led the League in the 2006-07 season.

Lecavalier is a proud, accomplished player, but he's also a realist. He knew that teammate Steven Stamkos, who entered a game Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers with 52 goals this season, was going to own that record at some point.

"He's probably going to beat (52 goals) many more times," Lecavalier said.

Stamkos beat 52 for the first time Monday, blistering a first-period wrist shot past Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov for his 53rd of the season.


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"It's special," Stamkos said of owning the record. "Any time you can have an individual thing like that on a team that's been around for a while and had a lot of great players come through, it's pretty special. It's something you remember. I'd love to be doing this when we're in the playoff mix. That would make it even more special. It's something I've worked hard towards. I've been fortunate to play with some great players, great people and it's another memory I'll get to share with them."

Just how far can Stamkos push the mark? With his talent, just about anything is possible.

"We'll see," he said. "We've got (seven) games left, and I want to score as many goals as I can down the stretch."

Next up in that run is a matchup against the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2), a team he's scored three goals against in three games this season, and eight goals in 15 career games.

For Stamkos, just getting to 50 is the real accomplishment. He's just the sixth player in NHL history to have two 50-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday -- the 22-year-old star won't celebrate that birthday until next February.

"To be able to do that twice now in my career is something I'll remember forever," he said. "It still hasn't sunk in yet. … It's great to get back to that 50 number. To do it once in this League was obviously special and something you don't really even dream of as a kid -- you just want to make it to the NHL, let alone score 50 goals. But to do it a second time, that really proves to myself and to everyone else that I want to be a consistent goal-scorer in this League. To do it once is amazing but to do it again and be close last year, too -- if I didn't go into that slump (seven goals in his last 31 games). It's nice to be consistently around that number because it is tough to reach in that game."

As happy as Stamkos is with his season -- he goes into Tuesday with a seven-goal lead on Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in the Rocket Richard Trophy race, and with 88 points, trails Malkin by just nine points in the Art Ross Trophy race -- the luster isn't quite the same because of the Lightning's place in the standings.

Stamkos had 45 goals last season and helped the Lightning reach the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, though, Tampa Bay has slumped to 11th in the conference.

"We had all the expectations coming into this year," Stamkos said. "We had a tough start and we dug ourselves a hole. We were starting to find our way out of that hole and the injuries came and some bad bounces and adversity that was too much to overcome for our team. … It was tough, knowing we were one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final last year and then to have that start, I thought it was pretty disappointing."

Rather than get bogged down in negativity, however, Stamkos has raised his game. 

"It's impressive to get 50, but to me it's not the number, it's how and it's why," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "First, I think he's a totally unselfish guy. It's never about his points, it's never about his goals. I've seen him this year give an open net to guys so that they could score. What I like is he's focused on the defensive part of his game so much and the small details that make a guy a winner rather than just a star. I raise my hat to that, he's improved so much from the beginning of last year, it's amazing.

"You talk about the one-timer on the power play, and he's got two like that this year. Ninety percent of his goals are even strength (42 of 53), and they're all kinds of ways -- deking, going around defensemen, inside shots, outside shots, tips, wraparounds, he's doing it all and at such a young age that it's very, very impressive. And I think that's going to keep on getting better and better."

He's also been a positive influence on the team's rapid influx of younger players. Injuries have decimated the Lightning's lineup; in Monday's game in Philadelphia, they had seven players in the lineup who started the season in the American Hockey League, and a goalie -- Sebastien Caron, who will start Tuesday's game -- who hasn't played an NHL game since 2007. In all, the Lightning have dressed 31 different players this season

"When you see a guy who works as hard as he does, how professional he is at such a young age, he's a guy to look up to," said Lightning rookie forward Brett Connolly. "He's a great player, a world-class player. He's a great role model for a guy like me. I just watch what he does and be a sponge, pretty much, just watching every day what he does, learn as much as I can from him."

Lecavalier said he's stopped being surprised by the things Stamkos has done in his four NHL seasons. He had 51 goals two seasons ago, and with 53 so far this season, the veteran captain knows there's no limit to just how much Stamkos can accomplish.

"I don't want to say amazed because he's done it three years in a row," said Lecavalier. "For us, it's just normal. Last year he got 45 and he could have gotten 55. Three years in a row like that is unbelievable. His standards are different than anyone else I've seen in probably ever. … He's been amazing all year. He's been a big part of this team -- leadership-wise, too. He's a great player now; I can't even imagine when he gets to 28 and he's in his prime. That's pretty scary how good he's going to be."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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